Rep. Austin Scott, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Horticulture, Research, Biotechnology and Foreign Agriculture, held a public hearing to review the impact of enforcement activities by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) on specialty crop growers. Specifically, Subcommittee Members addressed growing concerns that DOL is using the "Hot Goods" provision under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) in an arbitrary manner against producers of perishable agricultural commodities without regard for the inevitable destruction of the product and significant economic hardship inflicted on farmers and their employees.
Goodlatte Introduces Voluntary Country-of-Origin Labeling (V-COOL) Legislation
WASHINGTON, D.C. – House Agriculture Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte today introduced voluntary country-of-origin labeling (V-COOL) legislation, H.R. 2068, for the domestic meat industry. Goodlatte introduced the legislation with 33 cosponsors and comes in response to mandatory provisions in the 2002 Farm Bill requiring retailers to inform consumers of the country-of-origin at the final point of sale for covered commodities.
H.R. 2068, the “Meat Promotion Act of 2005,” will amend the country-of-origin labeling requirements in the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 and require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish a voluntary program that will allow producers to work with processors and retailers to provide labeling information in the marketplace in such a way that informs consumers and benefits producers. Specifically, this Act will permit retailers to label beef, pork and lamb as products of the U.S. if they are derived exclusively from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.
“It has been three years since enactment of the 2002 Farm Bill and yet there is still a lack of consensus about how the COOL provisions can best be implemented. I have always favored a voluntary approach and the legislation we are introducing will replace the current mandatory system, with its potential for creating another layer of regulatory and business cost, with a voluntary program,” said Goodlatte. “This approach benefits consumers and producers and is preferable to a mandatory program that is more likely to hurt the people it was intended to help.”
The COOL provisions, as originally written, have raised many concerns among producers, processors, suppliers and retailers. Goodlatte’s bill comes in response to the call for a voluntary program that is market driven, recognizes existing labeling programs, minimizes record-keeping, allows flexibility, and is cost-effective.
Under Goodlatte’s legislation, compliance with the COOL provisions enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill would no longer be mandatory, with farmers, ranchers and retailers deciding whether they want to label their products to indicate the country in which they were produced. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be required to create a unique label that retailers could use for designating country-of-origin.
Participants in the program will be required to maintain records that will enable USDA to verify compliance with the terms of the program. Violators of the program, such as anyone who labels meat that has not been born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. as having U.S. country-of-origin status, are subject to a civil penalty of up to $10,000.
“The stated intent of those who advocate a mandatory COOL scheme has been to benefit producers, which is a worthy goal. Unfortunately, no one has made a clear case to me that mandatory COOL does anything to help producers,” said Goodlatte. “The voluntary approach in this bill ensures that those who are paying the cost of the regulations will be doing so because they have determined that there is an added benefit provided by the program.”