Open your refrigerator and take a look around. Do you know where
the apples in the crisper came from? New Hampshire, or New Zealand?
Did you know that the package of ground beef in your freezer may
contain animal parts from as many as 20 different countries?
We stamp ‘Made in the USA’ on blue jeans, diapers, and cars, but
most Americans have no clue where their food was grown. That could
change if Congress passes — and enforces — a rule in the 2007
Farm Bill called Country of Origin Labeling, or COOL.
In 2002, after considerable lobbying efforts from
sustainable-farming advocates, Congress passed COOL legislation.
The rule required labels on beef, lamb, pork, fish, peanuts, and
perishable agricultural commodities by September 2004. But, under
pressure from agribusiness, Congress has delayed implementation
again and again.
Activists are going to push for COOL again in 2007, but they are
likely to see fierce opposition from industry groups. John Tyson,
CEO of Tyson Foods, has spoken out publicly against COOL, saying
implementing the rule would be costly and would ‘penalize’ U.S.
producers and retailers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture
determined that COOL would cost the food industry almost $2 billion
in paperwork in the first year of implementation — a figure that
the General Accounting Office found ‘questionable and not well
Companies that oppose COOL are probably also concerned about how
labeling might affect their public images and sales. The meat
industry has acknowledged that U.S. consumers might avoid buying
meat from other countries, fearing that it would be less safe.
‘If you’re a large corporation, you’re concerned about COOL
because it begins to pull the veil back on how you do business,’
says Brian Snyder of the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable
Agriculture. Food corporations are depending more and more on
foreign production, which is cheaper and, some believe, of
Tyson Foods, along with companies like Cargill and industry
groups such as the National Cattlemen’s Association and the
National Pork Producers Council, have joined forces and hired a
prominent Washington lobbying firm, Lesher & Russell, with the
goal of killing labeling rules.
Despite industry resistance, Snyder and others believe that
public support gives COOL a shot at being included in the 2007 Farm
Bill. ‘People actually do care where their food is produced,
especially when you have mad cow disease, avian flu, and other
nutritional concerns out there,’ Snyder says. ‘The public might
react if they see where food is coming from, and that is scary to
the corporate food system.’