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WASHINGTON - A report by the General Accounting Office released this week suggests that the USDA's estimates of the cost of mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) are "questionable and not well supported."
The Food Marketing Institute and National Grocers Association have said the report underestimates the investment such a change would require of the food-distribution industry.
Senators Tom Daschle, D-S.D., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., and Tim Johnson, D-S.D., released the report, saying they will co-sponsor an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations bill that instructs Senate conferees to accept no funding limits on COOL implementation, according to a news release from Enzi.
The House of Representatives passed an ag funding bill in July that prohibited the use of USDA funds for implementing mandatory country of origin labeling.
"We will not stand by waiting for COOL funding to be stripped from the conference report," said Enzi.
"The GAO found an inflated USDA cost estimate that has been used as justification to delay COOL, no documentation from USDA to defend its exaggerated costs, and a host of trade partners who already have a COOL program," said Johnson. "The USDA should change its record-keeping cost estimate and provide the public with balanced and defensible information about the true costs and benefits associated with COOL," he added.
Johnson was the author of the original COOL legislation included in the 2002 farm bill. "Congress passed COOL and the President signed it into law," Johnson said. "The USDA should stop dragging their feet, follow congressional intent and implement this law."
Johnson and Daschle requested the GAO study last year. USDA has claimed COOL will cost $1.9 billion to implement. The GAO found "USDA used assumptions that are questionable and not well supported in developing its $1.9 billion estimate."