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USDA comments on country of origin labeling

(Thursday, March 20, 2003 -- CropChoice news) --The following is a news release from Americans for Country of Origin Labeling.

Contact: Bill Bullard (406) 252-2516, Ray Gilmer (407) 894-1351

Richland, MOUSDA representatives recently addressed several issues concerning Country of Origin Labeling and have made a commitment to ensure that the law is enforced and interpreted exactly as it is written.

"Ms. Veneman instructed her staff to enforce the Country of Origin Labeling law in a manner that will be the least burdensome for producers," said A.J. Yates, Administrator for USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

Americans for Country of Origin Labeling (ACOL), a national alliance of agricultural and consumer organizations, commends USDA and Secretary of Agriculture Veneman for this common-sense approach, said ACOL spokesman Dr. R. M. (Max) Thornsberry, President of the Missouri Stockgrower's Association.

"Country of Origin Labeling is not a complex issue," said Thornsberry. "Unfortunately, certain members of the processing community would like you to think otherwise. ACOL is grateful that USDA is able to resist those threats and scare tactics and forge ahead to implement this meaningful and useful law."

On March 12, 2003, Yates told Thornsberry that the Secretary had called a meeting of AMS staff recently and instructed them to "enforce and interpret the Country of Origin Labeling law exactly as it is written, no additions or deletions."

According to Yates, Secretary Veneman also reminded USDA staff that "there is nothing in the Country of Origin Labeling law that requires third party verification. We are prohibited from requiring any form of mandatory identification of livestock, but we are given the task of proving animals are born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States."

In reference to letters that producers have received from meat packing companies threatening the enforcement of third-party verification, Yates indicated that the Packers and Stockyards Administrations enforcement team was looking into the matter and a Cease and Desist Order may be forthcoming. Yates also told Thornsberry that, while the packers may impose their own interpretation of Country of Origin Labeling, the packers will not be allowed to violate the Packers and Stockyards Act or discriminate against producers, and he added that the labeling law is directed at retailers, not packers.

Thornsberry said Bill Sessions, who represented USDA in a producer meeting held recently at the Joplin Regional Stockyards in Joplin, MO, made comments which mirrored those of Yates' comments. He reminded producers that third party verification was not a part of the Country of Origin Labeling law. Sessions also provided a list of common producer records as examples of records AMS would accept for verifying origin.

Following the meeting in Joplin, Sessions told Thornsberry that his department has been given the directive to "enforce the Country of Origin Labeling law in a manner that would cause the least difficulty for livestock producers."


Consumers wishing to learn more about country of origin labeling and how to show support for its mandatory implementation in U.S. stores can visit http://www.americansforlabeling.orgor call 800-895-2221.