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A bill calling for voluntary country-of-origin labeling for meat products was introduced Wednesday by a bipartisan group of congressmen including House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.).
Backed by 31 other co-sponsors, H.R. 2068 would provide a framework for converting the mandatory country-of-origin labeling program set to take effect Sept. 30, 2006 to a voluntary program administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Opponents of the mandatory labeling law -- including processors that mix domestic and imported meat when making products such as sausage and ground beef -- said because they would have to segregate operations by United States and imported product lines, the resulting expense would be considerable.
The American Meat Institute (AMI), the National Meat Association, the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) were among the organizations praising the legislation's voluntary, market-driven labeling approach for U.S. meat products.
"Imposing added burdens on a financially strained industry with a lack of any demonstrable consumer demand is misguided public policy and we are pleased the members of the House are recognizing this fact," said AMI president J. Patrick Boyle.
In expressing support for the bill on behalf of NPPC, president-elect Joy Philippi called the legislation "a workable, voluntary labeling program…[that] benefits both producers and consumers by providing product origin information and not adding unnecessary costs without demonstrated benefits." Philippi, a pork producer from Bruning, Neb., said, "We are supportive of a voluntary system which would benefit consumers without unduly burdening producers, particularly independent and smaller pork producers."
"Many segments of the food industry have wanted country-of-origin labeling for years," said NCBA President and Texas cattle producer Jim McAdams. "But there continues to be heated debate over how to actually implement such a program so that it works. After all this time, we're no closer to promoting U.S. products than we were a decade ago. We're tired of debating and we're tired of waiting."