WASHINGTON, D.C. - The House Agriculture Committee today mark ed-up voluntary country-of-origin labeling legislation introduced by the Chairman earlier this summer. There were several amendments offered during the mark-up, but none failed to garner sufficient votes, failing by wide margins. Most notably, a substitute amendment to modify the current mandatory law was defeated by a vote of 32-16.
The "Food Promotion Act of 2004," will amend the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to direct the Secretary of Agriculture to establish the voluntary labeling of produce, meat (including beef, pork, veal, lamb) and seafood with country-of-origin information. The bill is supported by 350 different groups and 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.
Chairman Goodlatte opened the mark-up by saying, "The stated intent of those who advocate a mandatory country-of-origin scheme has been to benefit producers, which is a worth goal. Unfortunately, no one has made a clear case to me that mandatory COOL does anything to help producers." The Chairman noted that in his discussions with producers, a mandatory program would be prohibitive by creating another layer of regulatory and business cost. "It would be a shame if government action resulted in harming the very producers it is intended to help," the Chairman said.
According to the USDA economic analysis, first year implementation costs for the mandatory country-of-origin labeling were estimated in the range of $582 million to $3.9 billion. Recordkeeping costs will continue at $458 million each year afterwards and annual costs to the U.S. economy after a 10 year period are estimated at $138 to $596 million. This same analysis estimated costs per head for beef cattle at $10 per head and $1.50 per animal for pork.
"The legislation we passed today will strike the onerous mandatory system and require the Secretary of Agriculture to establish in its place a rigorous voluntary program," Goodlatte said. "This will allow producers to work with processors and retailers to provide labeling information to help them mark et their product. This approach, which benefits both consumers and producers, is preferable to a mandatory program which is more likely to hurt the folks it was intended to help."