Mandatory COOL labeling of beef and other products

September 30, 2008

USDA COOL Program
Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0081
Room 2607-S
AMS USDA Stop 0254
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington D.C. 20250-0254

Re: Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0081

Dear USDA,

As a consumer owned grocery retailer with more than 45,000 member households and nine stores in Washington state, I’m writing to ask that you amend the Interim Final Rule for Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling of Beef and Other Products.

While we are pleased that this rule reflects significant improvements over COOL regulations proposed by USDA in the past, we are concerned about two particular provisions.

The definition of “processed food item” in the Interim Final Rule (IFR) at 7 C.F.R. 65.200 would exempt a broad range of products from labeling requirements, including cured meats, fruits and vegetables sold mixed in packages, and roasted nuts. This rule should be revised to ensure that suppliers cannot avoid labeling requirements through minimal alterations.

Cooking, curing, frying, boiling, baking or smoking do not substantially alter covered commodities nor does it change their origin; therefore such “processing” should not exempt a product from the labeling requirements of the law. Of particular concern are products sold in a state other than their raw or unmingled state — such as frozen fruits and vegetables, pork products, and nuts, which would be virtually exempt under the IFR.

Regarding “multiple countries of origin” labels: the IFR disregards and departs from the statute. Instead of complying absolutely with the clear statutory language [7 U.S.C. 1638a (a) (2) (B) (i) and (ii), as amended], the IFR would allow retailers to label meat from animals that are exclusively born, raised and slaughtered in the United States as product that may be from a list of possible countries.

The IFR does this by adding the word “and” to one of the three criteria for that label. The statute requires: “the animal was born, raised, or slaughtered in the U.S.,” the IFR injects the word “and” to read, “born, raised, and/or slaughtered in the U.S.” thereby creating the loophole. This would enable processors to circumvent the intent and letter of the law and would deprive consumers of the information needed to distinguish and choose U.S.-meat at the point of sale.

Processors claim that segregating U.S. meat from foreign meat would be burdensome, and the word “and” apparently was injected to appease those concerns. However, processors already easily segregate meat by grade (e.g. choice, prime, top prime, etc.) and by source (organic vs. nonorganic, grass-fed from feedlot finished); segregating the origin of U.S. and foreign meat is no more complicated nor burdensome.

For both provisions, we urge you to amend the rule to implement faithfully the law that Congress enacted.

Tracy Wolpert
Chief Executive Officer

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