New Food Labeling Laws Start Tomorrow

Approved by Congress in 2002, country of origin labeling (COOL) for meats will take effect this Saturday. The road to actualization took more than 10 years due to fervent opposition from a small but powerful group of companies such as Cargill and Tyson (NYSE: TSN). Along with large US corporate meat packers, Canada and Mexico is also in opposition to labeling, saying that it would lead to discrimination against their products.

Support for labeling is widespread among consumers; over 90% of respondents to a Consumers Union survey agreed with COOL. The desire for food transparency among consumers, US businesses, and unions, is overwhelming but opposition claims that labeling will cost too much. Instead of spending the money to comply with new labeling, much money has been spent to reverse the ruling. The USDA estimates that the cost to comply with the new regulations is $50-100 million, though that number has been challenged by Government Accountability Office as grossly inflated.

Opposition claims that labeling would cause an increase in price to consumers, though this argument itself would seem obsolete. Food labels change regularly among businesses without impacting consumer prices, and product tracking is already in place for all businesses. A measure as simple as recording the vendor, would provide enough information to comply with COOL.

About 2.2 billion pounds of beef, about 7.7% of total supplies, was imported into the US in 2012. 37.3 billion pounds of chicken and 24.6 billion were imported in the same year.

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