USDA issues new rule for COOL | TSLN.com

USDA issues new rule for COOL

Chris Clayton
DTN Staff Reporter

DTN file photoCOOL applies to fresh or frozen food sold at the retail counter and excludes restaurants or processed foods such as pre-cooked meat products.

OMAHA (DTN) – USDA has sent an interim final rule to the Federal Register to ensure country-of-origin labeling will go into effect after Sept. 30.

On Monday, USDA officials sent a 233-page rule to the Federal Register for publication Aug. 1 that will ensure a 60-day comment period before country-of-origin labeling goes into effect Sept. 30 for most meat products, including beef, pork, chicken and lamb.

The rule spells out how meatpackers and retailers must verify the country of origin of livestock and poultry to comply with the law. Packers, in turn, will be requiring more information from livestock producers to define the origin of animals.

COOL has been controversial since it became part of the 2002 farm bill. Livestock producers in Canada and Mexico have expressed concern that the new law would hurt the trade of Canadian and Mexican livestock and meat from those countries. Canadian officials have threatened to sue the U.S., arguing the law violates the North American Free Trade Agreement.

COOL was delayed after the 2002 farm bill, but USDA had targeted Sept. 30, 2008, as a start date and began issuing regulations for that. The 2008 farm bill included industry changes to COOL and added products, such as chicken, for labeling. That forced USDA to create a new interim final rule that would allow industries involved in new products under the labeling rule to comment.

Acknowledging the challenges with verifying country of origin without written rules, USDA stated the rule will not apply to meat products processed before the Sept. 30 date.

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COOL applies to fresh or frozen food sold at the retail counter and excludes restaurants or processed foods such as pre-cooked meat products.

One of the most divisive battles over COOL within the meat industry was how to label ground products such as hamburger. The law requires labeling any country on the package where meat may have come from to make the ground meat, but does not require detailed percentages defining how much meat came from animals of any individual country.

In its interim final rule, USDA stated the department “continues to look for ways to minimize the burden associated with this rule” in terms of proving the origin of an animal. Meatpackers that slaughter animals that are part of the USDA National Animal Identification System may be allowed to rely on the presence of an official eartag and accompanying markings, such as the “CAN” for Canada or “M” for Mexico brands.

Retailers must maintain records for one year showing the commodity’s country of origin and must be made available to USDA for inspection.

Under the 2008 farm bill, there would be three different labels spelling out the origin of the meat. One states “Product of the U.S.,” meaning the meat came from an animal that was born, raised and processed in the U.S.

A second label will be used for meat from an animal that moved across national borders, such as a Canadian feeder pig or Mexican steer that was fattened and processed in the U.S. Meat from those animals would be labeled, for instance, “Product of the U.S. and Mexico.”

A third label will be used for products such as ground beef, in which meat may be used from carcasses of U.S., Canadian or Mexican cattle as well as meat trimmings from New Zealand. That label may state “This product contains meat from the U.S., Canada, Mexico and New Zealand.” It would not require percentages to break down how much meat came from which country.

The COOL law will affect beef, including veal, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish, shellfish, peanuts, pecans, ginseng and macadamia nuts.

The full rule can be found at http://federalregister.gov.

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com