WASHINGTON — After years of debate and postponement, the U.S. Department of Agriculture's mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements will be effective, beginning tomorrow, on unprocessed perishables, including produce, meat, poultry and certain kinds of nuts.
During the next six months, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service will focus on industry outreach programs, in an effort to educate retailers and suppliers on the requirements of the rule, AMS has said. Although USDA has not described this time as a “grace period,” the agency is expected to be focused on these education efforts, rather than enforcement, through April 2009.
Consumer advocacy groups have praised the new regulations.
“If a food safety problem is identified in a particular imported product, as happened with jalapeno and serrano peppers from Mexico earlier this year, then consumers will be able to avoid that product,” Jean Halloran, director of food policy initiatives for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports, said in a statement. “On the other hand, some people like to buy certain imported products … still others just want to buy local produce. Either way, the new labels will give consumers important new information.”
Industry groups, meanwhile, have continued to emphasize that COOL should be considered a marketing program, not a food safety program.