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RMFU testifies for country-of-origin labeling

KEARNEY, NEB.—Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU) board member Elwin Poe, a crop and livestock producer from Holyoke, Colo., testified in favor of implementing country-of-origin labeling as written in the 2002 farm bill at a U.S. Department of Agriculture hearing here, May 8.

“Most U.S. consumer goods, including everything from clothing, inexpensive gadgets, electronic goods and even many retail-ready food products, are already labeled with their country of origin. The majority of countries label food with their country-of-origin. It is country-of-origin labeling that has consumers associating products with countries, such as, Columbian coffee, Russian caviar, Italian Parmesan, and so on,” Poe told the hearing.

Poe said the majority of the testimonies were in favor of mandatory labeling, with the only large group of producer opponents being the Nebraska Pork Producers Association. The other common theme of the testimonies was producers asking regulators to keep the process simple and not require them to shoulder the burden or the expense of the labeling.

“Country-of-origin labeling of food is good for producers and consumers alike. Let’s implement the law and give both consumers and producers what they want,” Poe said. “It seems the only detractors are the processors and retailers who have recently managed to frighten some producers into voicing opposition to implementation of the law as passed in the 2002 farm bill.”

During his testimony, Poe referred to a letter from Swift & Company in Greeley, Colo., which was forwarded to Rocky Mountain Farmers Union from a producer to whom it had been sent. The letter tells producers that each of their animals must have a “passport,” recording any of its stops outside the country, noting that Swift & Company “will require third-party verified documentation proving where the animals were purchased, born and raised.”

“This is nothing more than a sophisticated scare tactic aimed at getting producers to speak out against mandatory country-of-origin labeling. The legislation passed by Congress explicitly prohibits the trace back system Swift & Company is touting as law. Processors know that a meat label noting the product is made from meat of animals from various counties would be a major turn-off for consumers,” Poe said.

Poe noted that country-of-origin labeling does not violate international trade agreements as some have suggested. Neither is the cost of labeling prohibitive. Florida, which has mandatory country-of-origin labeling, reports a cost of $300,000 annually to label food products for its 14 million residents and 47 million visitors.