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Food labeling bill passes out of committee

DENVER>>Colorado consumers came one step closer to being able to determine the country of origin of many of their groceries, as the State House Agriculture Committee Wednesday endorsed legislation to require retail stores to post signs stating the country of origin of meat, produce and honey.

On a vote of 6-4, the Committee gave first approval to legislation by State Rep. Kay Alexander, R-Montrose, to require the stores to post signs at the point of sale listing the country from where the meat, produce and honey was produced.

Consumer representatives, and advocates of independent ranchers hailed the Committee’s action as a strong step toward allowing customers to make an informed choice in purchasing foreign or domestic products.

Dave Carter, president of the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, noted, “Seventy-eight percent of consumers responding to a recent survey said they want to know where their meat is coming from. Country of origin labeling lets us give our customers the information they want.”

Rep. Alexander brought a tee shirt and a frozen steak to the committee to illustrate the frustration that producers and consumers experience over the lack of country of origin labeling. “If we know where our tee shirt was made, why shouldn’t we know where our T-Bone was made? That is what HB 1098 is all about,” she said.

Carter told the committee, “Our customers want to know where their product comes from, and they have a right to know. Too often, when a customer can’t tell where their meat is coming from, they are making a choice not to buy it at all.”

Clarence Newcomb, a southern Colorado rancher and chairman of the Colorado Beef Assurance Council, noted that American producers observing strict health, safety and environmental standards are forced to compete with products produced under lower standards. “Show the consumer the source of this imported beef and they will quit buying these products,” he said.

Lee Arst, president of Coleman Natural Products, explained to the committee about the procedure his company utilizes to verify the source of their product. He said that source verification is not burdensome.
Representatives of the retail grocery industry opposed the legislation, saying that the signage requirements would add expensive new costs for the consumer.

Carter noted, however, that Florida already has a law requiring country of origin signage on all produce. The Florida Commissioner of Agriculture estimates that the cost of complying with the program averages less than $10 per week per store.

Voting to support the Alexander bill were Reps. Jim Snook, R-Alamosa; Brian Jameson, D-Fort Collins, Carl Miller, D-Leadville; Lois Tochtrop, D-Westminster; and Tom Plant, D-Nederland. Opposing the bill were Reps. Diane Hoppe, R-Sterling; Steve Johnson, R-Loveland; Gregg Rippy, R-Glenwood Springs; and Bill Webster, R-Greeley.

Organizations supporting the legislation were Rocky Mountain Farmers Union, Colorado Cattlemen’s Association, Colorado Woolgrowers Association, and Colorado Honeybee Producers. Opposing the bill were the Colorado Retail Council, Kraft Foods, the Colorado Livestock Association, and the Colorado Farm Bureau.