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Producers Favor Voluntary, not Mandatory COOL

by 5m Editor
17 April 2003, at 12:00am

NEBRASKA - The Nebraska Pork Producers Association's board of directors supports a voluntary system that addresses the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provision written into the 2002 farm bill.

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“The producers who make up the NPPA board of directors have spoken to their peers across the state, and based on producers’ responses, the board recently voted to support a voluntary country-of-origin system,“ said Dave Hansen, Hartington, Neb., pork producer and NPPA president. “The producers have expressed that their predominate fear of a mandatory system rotates around the lingering unknown costs related to identification, verification and bookkeeping. Profit margins are slim; there just isn’t room for any additional costs to be absorbed by the producer.“

COOL mandates labeling by Oct. 1, 2004, for all fresh meat, seafood and certain other commodities sold at retail; poultry is excluded. The labeling must include the country or countries of origin of the animal/s, from which the meat was produced. The U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) developed voluntary COOL guidelines last year and has now started to develop mandatory requirements.

Two COOL areas of particular concern to Nebraska’s pork producers are: the continuing possibility that retailers may impose an extremely costly animal identification and trace-back system in order to better protect themselves from penalties; and the brevity and lack of clarity contained in the record keeping and enforcement portions of the COOL guidelines.

“Because AMS has stated that retailers will have to demonstrate the accuracy of all labels on the covered commodities, which will require documentation and verification, retailers have said they will demand documentation from packer/processors as to the origin of their pork products,“ said Hansen. In turn, the packers and processors have advised producers that they will need to provide documentation of the origin of their animals, continued Hansen. “Providing origin documentation is where this will get costly. For liability purposes, producers will have to implement a detailed system that collects, maintains, tracks, audits and verifies every animal, from birth to market – which simply can’t be done on most Nebraska farms without enormous on-farm costs.“

Rod Johnson, executive director of NPPA, said, “Mandatory country-of-origin labeling will be a disadvantage to our traditional producers and provide less opportunity for some of Nebraska’s value-added systems to flourish. The advantage will clearly go to the more integrated systems, where they have control over the origin of their products, ultimately encouraging closer producer-packer coordination.“ Johnson said the advantage of a voluntary system is that it would allow those entities who see value in a country-of-origin labeling system to explore its incorporation and at the same time protect other producers from being mandated into a cumbersome system of regulations.

“Mandatory country-of-origin labeling would be relatively easy to implement for the integrated systems, however, for independent producers, regardless of size, COOL would be a burden,“ said Terry O’Neel, a pork producer from Friend, Neb. “I believe COOL could even benefit our major export competitors like Denmark and Canada in market share.“

A 12-state series of listening and education sessions will take place, allowing the public to provide input and learn more information about the COOL law. A May 8 stop in Kearney, Neb., – University of Nebraska at Kearney, 905 West 25th St. – is planned. It is scheduled for 1 p.m. until 4 p.m.

“This is a pivotal time for producers to provide public comment on the effect COOL will have on them, their operations and their livelihoods. Any producer with thoughts about country-of-origin labeling should become involved by attending the education and listening session,“ said Johnson.

Numerous Nebraska pork producers have expressed concern over the long term effects of regulations that would erode at producers’ tight profit margins, said O’Neel. “The extra expense of labor, liability and paperwork would cause more producers to exit the pork business, when we are already losing pork production in Nebraska,“ concluded O’Neel.

Source: Nebraska Pork Producers Association - 17th April 2003

5m Editor