UnCOOL

New COOL Is Unnecessary and Would Create Confusion

Volume 133, No. 19 Friday,November 7, 2008

Citing the adulteration of Chinese milk products with melamine, US Senator Hillary Clinton has drafted legislation to add dairy products to a long list of foods facing Country of Origin Labeling.

Country of Origin Labeling or COOL has a long and controversial past since Congress created COOL labeling for beef, pork, lamb, fish and peanuts in the 2002 farm bill. Senator Clinton’s bill adds new layers of complexity — exclusively for dairy.

USDA followed up on the 2002 farm bill and wrote rules for fish labeling in 2005. Meanwhile, industry groups worked with Congress for six years to delay mandatory COOL rules for meats. This August, USDA’s Ag Marketing Service published an interim final rule for meats and several other new commodities added in the 2008 farm bill.

The new farm bill passed in June 2008 added goat meat, chicken, ginseng, pecans and macadamia nuts to the list of commodities that face COOL. These commodities, as well as meats and peanuts, are covered by USDA’s new interim final rule. A comment period on the rule ended September 30: COOL labeling is taking effect.

Clinton’s Bill
Weeks ago, New York’s Senator Clinton offered a brief congressional bill to insert dairy products into the COOL subtitle in the farm bill (the ever-amended Ag Marketing Act of 1946). Congress is not in session at this time, but Senator Clinton’s bill has hidden land mines that would make dairy COOL labeling stricter than COOL labeling for other commodities.

Clinton’s bill adds “dairy products” to the laundry list of commodities covered by COOL and then defines dairy products as fluid milk, cheese (including cottage cheese and cream cheese), yogurt, ice cream, butter and any other dairy product. The ‘any other’ language clearly opens the door, later in her bill, to any and all dairy ingredients.

Then the bill creates an added complication for dairy: all other commodities — meat, fish, peanuts — are exempt from COOL if they become an ingredient in a processed food, but the senator does not allow this exemption for dairy. Dairy products used in a processed food would have to identify country of origin.

COOL regulations relate almost entirely to retail foods. Foods prepared or served in foodservice are exempt from COOL labeling. The key paragraph in the law states “a retailer of a covered commodity shall inform consumers, at the final point of sale ... of the country of origin of the covered commodity.”

This is done via product “label, stamp, mark, placard or other clear and visible sign on the covered commodity or on the package, display, holding unit or bin containing the commodity at the final point of sale to consumers,” the law states.

Labeling Nightmares
Senator Clinton is proposing a unique regulatory environment for dairy products. While the COOL law envisions bins or displays of fresh beef or chicken labeled with a country of origin, the senator’s bill would create thousands of places and packages in a retail store where every food with a dairy ingredient would face country of origin labeling.

The final portion of Senator Clinton’s bill drives the point home. Her bill includes a new, special section on COOL rules for dairy, stating: “A retailer of a covered commodity that is a dairy product shall designate the origin of the covered commodity as (A) each country in which or from the 1 or more dairy ingredients or dairy components of the covered commodity were produced, originated or sourced and (B) each country in which the covered commodity was processed.”

Several nightmare scenarios for COOL labeling apply. A dairy product made of multiple dairy ingredients (e.g. yogurt, processed cheese, ice cream) would have to list the potential country of origin of each ingredient. A cheese blend maker would state every possible origin of every cheese in a blend.

These problems are compounded by Senator Clinton’s requirement that dairy country of origin labeling carry into processed foods. If a processed cheese is used in a frozen entree, the entree would list the processed cheese and the constituent countries of origin of its dairy ingredients.

This bill oversteps COOL requirements for other commodities. COOL is envisioned as applying to whole commodities — a fresh chicken, a bag of nuts.

Senator Clinton’s vision of COOL applied to dairy is infinitely more complex as dairy products are a component in thousands of processed foods.

In the end, the cheese industry already faces COOL. US Customs laws require that imported dairy products bear country of origin labeling. This existing law informs consumers without confusion and cost.r


John Umhoefer has served as executive director of the Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association since 1992. You can phone John at (608) 828-4550; Fax him at (608) 828-4551; or e-mail John Umhoefer at jumhoefer@wischeesemakersassn. org

 

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