A joint letter that reactivates the Americans for Country of Origin Labeling (ACOL) coalition was sent recently to the leadership of both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives to request that mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) be implemented by September 2007 and to encourage Congress to affirm its support of implementing COOL since the law has been on the books since the passage of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002.

The letter – signed by 213 organizations, including R-CALF USA of Billings, Mont., and 25 of its Affiliates – represents millions of U.S. producers and U.S. consumers.

ACOL is asking Congress to pass Senate Bill 404, bipartisan legislation introduced by Sen. Craig Thomas, R-Wyo., which would change the implementation date for COOL to Sept. 30, 2007. This bill is co-sponsored by: Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.; Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa; Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont.; Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D.; Sen. Michael Enzi, R-Wyo.; and, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.

ACOL also asks Congress to pass H.R. 357, introduced by Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., and which also would change the COOL implementation date to Sept. 30, 2007. Co-sponsors include Rep. Stephanie Herseth, D-S.D., and Rep. Barbara Cubin, R-Wyo.

R-CALF USA filed comments with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provide steps the agency can take to implement Mandatory COOL immediately.

“R-CALF is recommending seven specific improvements USDA can use to simplify the implementation of COOL rules for beef, based on some of the agency’s own actions when, in 2005, it implemented COOL rules for fish and seafood,” said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard.

USDA can immediately implement COOL for beef by:

· Allowing packers to indicate beef has come from imported animals without having to specify each further production step that may have occurred in the United States.

· Allowing packers to label blended products with a list of the countries of origin that may be contained in the product, rather than a definitive list of each country.

· Allowing retailers to rely on pre-labeled products for origin claims.

· Allowing meat packers to rely on country markings that already are applied to cattle imports in order to determine origin.

· Eliminating unnecessary and duplicative record-keeping requirements regarding chain of custody and separate tracking during the production process to allow packers and retailers to rely on documents they already keep in the ordinary course of business.

· Reducing the record retention requirement from two years to one year.

· Specifying that producers and retailers do not need to demand affidavits or third party verification audits of suppliers in order to adequately substantiate origin claims.

During an afternoon conference call, Thomas told participants he was proud to have been a sponsor of this “very reasonable” bill and that he was optimistic it would pass.

Know origin

“There’s just no reason why, when consumers purchase meat just like they purchase T-shirts, (they) have a right to know where it comes from,” Thomas said. “As we have more and more foreign trade – and there’s going to be more foreign trade as time goes on – I think it makes it even more important.”

Baucus told participants that consumers want to know where their food is coming from.

“COOL is not so expensive that it can’t be included – even under budget resolutions that we’ll be passing in Congress later this year; bottom line, it’s just not that expensive,” Baucus said. “The big thing is to get this legislation passed so it’s implemented, that’s the goal here. USDA has been dragging its feet. The goal is to get it implemented sooner rather than later.”