MOUNT VERNON — Country of origin labeling has been a hot and controversial topic in the agriculture industry. Designed primarily to let consumers know if the meat or produce they are buying is imported or domestically produced, the labeling provides, at the very least, the country where the food was raised.
Starting March 16, labels on most fresh meats, along with certain fruits, vegetables and other foods, will list where the food originated. In the case of meat, some labels will list where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the regulation requires labeling for muscle cuts and ground beef, including veal, pork, lamb, goat and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts; and ginseng sold by designated retailers.
The final rule outlines requirements for labeling covered commodities and the record-keeping requirements for retailers and suppliers, including the specific criteria that must be met for a commodity to bear a “United States Country of Origin” declaration, as well as commodities of foreign origin.
Several local consumers feel COOL gives them a way to make informed choices.
“Having that label will help me decide what foods to buy,” said Kristin McKeever. “I’m not fond of some foods from some countries with questionable producing practices.”
That feeling was echoed by Mike and Diana Doup, who were shopping at Lanning’s Foods meat counter.
“I think it’s an OK idea,” Mike said.
“I think people like to know where their meat is coming from,” she said. “I think people can keep a closer eye on how the cattle is raised and what they eat. And hopefully it’s fresher.”
Brent Porteus, president of the Knox County Farm Bureau Federation, said COOL is a mixed bag.
“Country of origin labeling is an effort to identify the source of the products from a grocery shelf standpoint,” he explained. “It was part of the last farm bill and it has been a point of discussion for a long time. There are a lot of competing interests in the industry about that. It has been quite controversial.
“In many respects it has been confused with the animal ID issue. That is for the purpose for tracing animals for rare animal health issues. There are those in the industry that think COOL will help domestic producers. There are others that recognize there is a lot of trade going both ways across the border, and would suggest the value [of COOL] was less. I am not a market expert, so I couldn’t say how it would affect production or prices.”
Porteus said the USA’s food production system was the best and safest in the world.
“It involves a lot of responsible producers that work very hard to connect to what is truly beneficial to consumers from a safety standpoint,” he said. “There are good things and bad things about it. Some are related to the cost, but it is a piece of consumer information that people can use.”
The Ohio Farmers Union, including the local Knox-Licking Farmers Union, has a more positive take on COOL. Roger Crossgrove, executive director of the OFU, feels it is a great boon to the consumer and is long overdue.
“For one thing, COOL is something this and the national organization has worked on for years,” said Crossgrove. “It was supposed to be implemented in 2002 but it took a while, and when it was implemented there were some kind of loopholes which have been closed, and we’re excited about that.”
Crossgrove said the new rules would empower consumers to make informed decisions about the food they buy.
“People like to know where their meat comes from,” he said. “I believe that by labeling it that sales will increase, enhancing the profitability of the beef industry.”
Local farmers union president Duane Grassbaugh also feels the new rules are positive for all concerned.
“I think it’s what needed to be done,” he said. “Consumers have a right to know where the food comes from. People want it and it’s going into place. I think it’s important to have it.”
Locally, the regulations are having a small impact, if any at all.
“We aren’t affected by it at all,” said Kevin Payne of Young’s Locker Service and Meat Processing in Danville. “We just process local meat. I think it might affect some of the bigger processing plants, but we just cater to the local farmer with custom processing. So I don’t think it has any effect on us.”
At Lanning’s Foods, COOL is being seen as a positive force for the customers and the store.
“Oh yes, it affects us,” said Steve Gilardi, co-owner of Lanning’s. “It’s just another regulation that we have to follow and just make sure that everything’s labeled properly so the consumer can see where the product is coming from.
“We only handle U.S. beef products,” he explained. “Beef, pork and poultry. [The labeling] is mainly on the vegetables and fruits. Now, multi-ingredient products are not involved in this [labeling]. People like to really know this because some other companies will bring in products from Mexico or Canada. It’s a selling point for me. We have put the country of origin on all our meats, even though it’s all from the USA.”
Gilardi thinks the labeling regulation is going to be great for the business. He feels there is a real concern among consumers about where their food comes from and how it’s handled.