andrew schneider investigates

January 12, 2009

Labeling origin of food falters in loophole

Filed under: FDA,Food labeling,Government & corporate wrong-doing,USDA — Andrew Schneider @ 17:15

The USDA today announced details of the final regulations for the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) program. The long-awaited law which has been demanded by consumers and public interest groups concerned with food safety, was required in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills and becomes effective March 16.

The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities, specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng; peanuts and honey.

The regulations demand that items covered under COOL must be labeled before they reach store shelves to indicate precisely where the food came from. For fish and shellfish, the method of production — wild or farm-raised — must be specified.

But some food-safety experts insist that a massive loophole that will allow large quantities of food to go without labeling.

“Given the recent scandals about the safety of imported food, it is unacceptable that the rule was approved with an overly broad definition for which foods are ‘processed,'” says Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food and Water Watch, a national consumer organization.

The USDA definition exempts from labeling over 60 percent of pork, the majority of frozen vegetables, an estimated 95 percent of peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts, and multi-ingredient fresh produce items, such as fruit salads and salad mixes.

“It is inexcusable to exempt so much food from this basic labeling requirement just because one ingredient has been added or because something has been roasted or cooked,” Hauter says.

The group says the outgoing Bush administration is using a trade challenge by Canada and Mexico as an excuse for weakening a domestic labeling program that is hugely popular with U.S. consumers and producers.

“Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and USDA should be standing up for those rights, not caving in to pressure from our trading partners,” the director says, adding that he hopes that after Jan. 20, Congress and then-President Obama’s team will “work to undo the damage done by this last-minute rule from the Bush administration.”

Here is a link to USDA if you want to read the final rule and additional information.

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