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Informer: Latest labeling rules apply to certain products

Last Modified: Saturday, December 29, 2012 7:31 PM

By Andrew Perzo / American Press

Is it true that foods sold in the United States have to list their country of origin?

Yes, but only for some foods and only in certain stores.

Congress in 2002 and 2008 amended the Agriculture Marketing Act of 1946 to require country-of-origin labeling, or COOL, on a group of raw commodities.

Under U.S. Department of Agriculture regulations, which took effect in 2009, such labeling must appear on muscle cuts and ground versions of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and goat; wild-caught and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fruits and vegetables, both fresh and frozen; ginseng; and peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts.

The regulations apply only to items sold in full-line grocery stores and in club and warehouse stores. Bars, convenience stores, delicatessens, fish and farmers markets, butcher shops, and restaurants and other food service providers are exempt.

Additionally, the regulations don’t apply to processed foods derived from the above “covered commodities.”

“Essentially, any time a covered commodity is subjected to a change that alters its basic character, it is considered to be processed. Although adding salt, water, or sugar do not, under USDA’s definition, change the basic character, virtually any sort of cooking, curing, or mixing apparently does,” reads a Congressional Research Service report published in August.

“For example, roasting a peanut or pecan, mixing peas with carrots, or breading a piece of meat or chicken all count as processing. As a result, only about 30% of the U.S. beef supply, 11% of all pork, 39% of chicken, and 40% of all fruit and vegetable supplies may be covered by COOL requirements at the retail level.”

The regulations for the labeling of meat will likely change, however, since the World Trade Organization issued a binding ruling in July that the COOL regulations unfairly discriminate against cattle and hog producers in Canada and Mexico. A WTO arbitrator earlier this month gave the United States until May 23 to comply with the ruling.

“U.S. options would be to consider regulatory and/or statutory changes to the COOL regulations and/or law,” reads the CRS report.

“If the United States does not comply, Canada and Mexico would have the right to seek compensation or authorization to retaliate against imports from the United States.”

Other food labeling laws:

Tariff Act of 1930 — Imported items must carry labels that identify their origins for the products’ “ultimate purchaser,” i.e., the last person to receive them in their imported form.

“Articles arriving at the U.S. border in retail-ready packages — including food products, such as a can of Danish ham, or a bottle of Italian olive oil — must carry such a mark,” reads the CRS report. “However, if the article is destined for a U.S. processor where it will undergo ‘substantial transformation,’ the processor is considered the ultimate purchaser.”

Federal Meat Inspection Act and Poultry Products Inspection Act — “Regulations issued under these laws have required that country of origin appear in English on immediate containers of all meat and poultry products entering the United States,” reads the report.

Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act — The law considers “a packaged food to be misbranded if it lacks a label containing the name and place of business of the manufacturer, packer, or distributor ...,” the report reads. “However, this name and place of business is not an indicator of the origin of the product itself.”

Online: www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/COOL; www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RS22955.pdf.

• • •

The Informer answers questions from readers each Sunday, Monday and Wednesday. It is researched and written by Andrew Perzo, an American Press staff writer. To ask a question, call 494-4098, press 5 and leave voice mail, or email informer@americanpress.com

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