Bill replaces mandatory COOL with voluntary program

The Meat Promotion Act of 2005 would ultimately give consumers, not the federal government, control of country-of-origin labeling for meat products. The voluntary labeling program would add value throughout the food chain, including at the producer level, and deserves congressional support, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

"This voluntary, market-based program would appeal to consumers, successfully increase market visibility for U.S. food products and let farmers produce food instead of paperwork," said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

AFBF strongly supports the Meat Promotion Act of 2005 (H.R. 2068), a House bill sponsored by Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-VA, Rep. Marion Berry, D-AR, and Rep. Roy Blunt, R-MO, because it would replace the mandatory country-of-origin labeling program for meat, which is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 30, 2006. This bipartisan, voluntary meat labeling bill would give producers added market value rather than a costly federal mandate, according to Stallman.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated the costs of the current mandatory country-of-origin label program could be as much as $4 billion in the first year alone, with several hundred million dollars a year in recurring costs. Stallman said that USDA also has estimated that more than 60 percent of these costs would be borne directly by the U.S. meat and livestock industry.

"Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat would place significant new costs on beef, hog and sheep producers, with the largest impact falling on independent producers," Stallman said. "This is clearly a marketing issue, not a food safety issue, and by approving a voluntary program, Congress would be placing control in the hands of consumers at the marketplace."

According to Stallman, by passing the Meat Promotion Act, Congress can take a big step "toward the worthy goal of promoting American-grown food products." He said this market-based bill "lays some solid groundwork that moves the worthy concept of voluntary country-of-origin labeling forward."

"We believe consumers are willing to pay a premium for origin-verified meat products and it is up to the marketplace to meet that demand," Stallman said. "This program can be modeled after similar USDA-certified programs that are already paying dividends for consumers and producers alike."

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