Voluntary COOL bill moves to full House; Senate opposition likely
July 26, 2004
Bill McDowell
The House Agriculture Committee has approved a bill that, if passed, will make the country-of-origin labeling for meat, seafood and produce voluntary.

H.R. 4576, sponsored by Representatives Robert Goodlatte (R-Va.) and Charles Stenholm (D-Texas), would replace the controversial mandate slated to go into effect September 2006 with a voluntary, flexible system.

The bill was approved by voice vote during a markup of the bill July 22, and now moves to the House floor for full consideration.

Mandatory country-of-origin labeling was included in the 2002 Farm Bill. The law was originally slated for September 30, 2004, implementation, but lawmakers approved a two-year delay last year. USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service last year estimated that the cost of the implementing and maintaining the system would be $3.9 billion, $2.4 billion of which would be borne by the U.S. meat industry.

The American Meat Institute was quick to endorse the bill. "Repeal of the mandatory labeling law will put choices back into the hands of consumers and will give producers, processors and retailers the flexibility to provide country of origin labeling if their customers see value in the added cost," said AMI President and CEO Patrick Boyle. "Otherwise, mandatory country-of-origin labeling is nothing more than a cumbersome government dictate that replaces affordable
food on the table with needless bureaucratic red tape and extra costs for consumer."

"We commend Chairman Goodlatte and Ranking Minority Member Stenholm - and all the members of the Agriculture Committee -- for their leadership and common sense approach to this issue," Boyle said. "We look forward to House consideration and passage of the bill and believe that it will put the market and consumers who drive the market in charge."

However, R-CALF USA, a group of western cattle producers that has aggressively supported mandatory COOL, said HR 4576 would be short lived and accused its sponsors of buckling to heavy lobbying by packers, processors and retailers that oppose COOL.

"Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) has always been met with resistance by the House Ag Committee, primarily because of the intense lobbying pressures applied by the nation's largest meat packers and meat processors, but when it goes to the full floor, this Goodlatte-Stenholm bill will be examined from a more objective point of view," said Danni Beer, COOL committee chair for R-CALF USA. "We must not forget that while the House Ag Committee rejected COOL during the 2002 Farm Bill debate, it was the full House that overwhelmingly supported Congresswoman Mary Bono's (R-Calif.) COOL legislation and included it in the Farm Bill," she added.

Beer also said the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate. "Certain meatpackers, processors and retailers have lined up in
support of the Goodlatte-Stenholm bill, and it was to be expected," Beer said. "These groups lost the fight back in 2002 over mandatory COOL, and it's in their financial interests to prevent COOL's implementation for as long as possible, or to at least try to weaken the original COOL language as much as they can."