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WASHINGTON - The Food Marketing Institute and the American Meat Institute separately released statements opposing new country-of-origin guidelines released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The USDA released the guidelines on Tuesday, calling for voluntary country of origin labeling for fresh and frozen produce, meat, seafood, and peanuts for two years. After that, labeling becomes mandatory. The department said it will take comments on the voluntary program, which begins on Friday, for 180 days.
FMI said in a statement that the guidelines "place an excessive burden on the entire food production and distribution chain," and that they will actually discourage voluntary labeling by retailers.
The guidelines will generate an endless paper trail and create confusion for consumers, said FMI president and CEO Tim Hammonds. "In addition to being extraordinarily difficult to implement, adhering to the guidelines will be extremely expensive for food producers, which will ultimately increase the cost of food for consumers," he said.
Food retailers are being asked to keep records of the country of origin of more than 500 products in each store, including the country in which each processing stage occurs for every single fresh or frozen vegetable, every fresh or frozen piece of fruit, every fresh or ground cut of beef, pork or lamb, every piece of fish, and every peanut, Hammonds noted. "All of the documentation required by the program places a particularly unfair burden on the smallest operators," he said.
AMI President J. Patrick Boyle said in a separate statement that mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products is "the most costly, cumbersome and complex labeling proposal in history.
"Consumers are unlikely to ever see the labels that USDA described in voluntary guidance issued because this program cannot be implemented," he said. Boyle noted his fear that the guidelines will force companies to source their meat not based on quality or price, but based on what will simplify their labeling requirements. "This is bad for livestock producers, bad for business and bad for consumers, who will be asked to pay a premium as a result of this misguided concept," he said.
"If this guidance becomes a final rule, it will succeed only in restricting meat trade between the U.S. and other nations. And that will trigger the fastest and most blistering complaints against the U.S. to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that we have ever seen," Boyle added.
Mike Stuart, president of the Florida Fruit & Vegetable Association (FFVA), said he supports the guidelines. "The interim voluntary labeling guidelines are an important first step toward giving U.S. producers a consistent identity in the marketplace," he said on Wednesday. Since 1979, Florida has required in-store country of origin labeling for fresh produce. Florida's positive experience with the law helped generate support for the national labeling initiative, according to a story by the Associated Press.