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WASHINGTON - The Food Marketing Institute and other industry groups offered praise yesterday for the House Agriculture Committee's passage of a bipartisan bill calling for the implementation of a voluntary country-of-origin labeling program.
The Food Promotion Act of 2004 (H.R. 4576), which was introduced June 15 by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Ranking Minority Member Charles Stenholm (D-TX), has broad bipartisan support along with the backing of 347 food and agriculture groups, including The United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA), National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), Produce Marketing Association (PMA), and National Fisheries Institute (NFI).
The bill would replace the mandatory, federally unfunded mandate slated to go into effect September 2006 with a voluntary, flexible system for labeling produce, meat (including beef, pork, veal, lamb), and seafood with country-of-origin information.
"This is an important first step," FMI's s.v.p. of government and public affairs John Motley told Progressive Grocer. "The next step will be the House floor in September. Since it will be harder to get the bill passed straight through there, it might make more sense for leadership to attach it to a piece of must-sign legislation to pull it over the finish line."
In a press release, FMI president and c.e.o. Tim Hammonds noted: "This vote advances a voluntary labeling solution to one of the costliest and most convoluted labeling laws ever enacted. Mandatory labeling will cost consumers billions of dollars, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It could disrupt trade with nations such as Canada and Mexico that view such labeling as protectionist trade barriers."
Among the advantages of voluntary labeling, according to Hammonds:
• Builds on existing state, regional, and U.S. brand labeling programs;
• Provides the flexibility to use a variety of labeling solutions, such as the stickers, packages, and twist-ties already on over 75 percent of all produce items;
• Allows labeling to be performed in the supply chain where it is most cost effective to do so;
• Can be implemented sooner than the September 2006 deadline for mandatory labeling of meat and produce.
"Country of origin and U.S. brand labeling are emerging trends independent of any legislation," Hammonds added. "Retailers frequently feature ethnic foods and the fruits, vegetables, and meat of local producers. A voluntary labeling law will speed up this natural course without fueling food inflation."