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    PMA Calls for Simpler Country of Origin Labeling Rules; Seeks Changes in Proposed Biosecurity Rules

    Newark, Del. -- The Produce Marketing Association stated a preference for an industry-driven, voluntarysystem for country of origin labeling (COOL) in its comments offered yesterday to the USDA.

    Newark, Del. -- The Produce Marketing Association stated a preference for an industry-driven, voluntary
    system for country of origin labeling (COOL) in its comments offered yesterday to the USDA.

    Prior to completing the blueprint for the final mandatory guidelines that will go into effect in October of 2004, retailers, wholesalers, producers, state and national trade associations, and other interested parties were requested to share comments about the law should be applied with the USDA by tomorrow.

    The USDA proposed guidelines for a two-year voluntary program that began October 11, 2002 for COOL, a key provision part of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, a.k.a. the Farm
    Bill. USDA must promulgate a regulation for mandatory labeling by September 30, 2004. The department said that development of this mandatory regulation will begin this month and likely will be based on the voluntary guidelines from the current interim period as well as related input the agency receives.

    PMA and USDA officials met with the USDA last week to discuss the consensus of the association's COOL task force that represented the entire produce supply chain ranging from shippers through distributors and fresh-cut processors to retailers

    Among the comments offered to the USDA by PMA, Bryan Silbermann, the association's president, said: "The cost of a mandatory country of origin labeling program is significant, particularly given that country of origin labeling is essentially a domestic marketing, rather than a food safety, program. The labeling nightmare that our industry faces could be just as bad for processors as it threatens to be for retailers."

    Separately, in comments filed April 3 with the Food and Drug Administration, the Newark, Del.-based trade association called for simpler rules aimed at protecting the food supply, not over-regulating the fresh produce industry.

    "Fresh produce marketers want a safe and secure food supply, just as FDA does," said PMA v.p. Kathy Means. "We believe that can be accomplished without some of the paperwork nightmare that the proposed regulations would produce."

    The proposed rules are the first released by FDA as it writes regulations to implement the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002, signed into law in the United
    States June 12, 2002. The act has an implementation mandate of December 12, 2003.

    Some provisions of the law are already in effect, and FDA is proposing rules to implement other provisions. For the fresh produce industry, the four key areas for comment are registration, prior notice,
    administrative detention, and record keeping. FDA released its proposed regulations on registration and prior notice in February, and the proposals for detention and record keeping are expected in late April or
    early May.

    PMA also called for: changes in the proposed update and amendment procedures; simpler information on the prior notice that does not exceed what is required under the law; integration with U.S. Customs systems; a single prior notice per shipment (not per food item on the shipment).

    The goals of the regulations are laudable, Means said. "Everyone wants a secure food supply. The world has changed, and we all recognize that this is not business as usual. However, we need to be sure that the
    measures taken to reach those goals are effective. That's what the comment process is all about - helping FDA understand real-world industry business practices and the impact of the proposed rules."

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