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Sampler Platter (Extra Salty)

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Jul 24, 2009 at 14:36:57 PM PDT

Discuss :: (1 Comments)

Vilsack Issues COOL Rules

by: Jill Richardson

Fri Feb 20, 2009 at 23:41:45 PM PST

Tom Vilsack issued the final COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) rule today. (Hat tip to Naomi Starkman and Obama Foodorama) For background on this issue:
January: Bush USDA's Lousy COOL Rule
Tuesday: Vilsack Calls for Stricter Voluntary Rules
Thursday: Vilsack Cancels COOL Press Conference

In the USDA press release, Vilsack said that the Bush USDA's rule will go into effect as is (i.e. with loopholes you could drive a truck through) on March 16 as scheduled. Additionally, he released a letter (PDF), nicely asking industry to pretty please pretend the loopholes weren't there and instead voluntarily observe stricter rules.

His specific requests:

Labeling of product from multiple countries of origin
In order to provide consumers with sufficient information about the origin of products, processors should voluntarily include information about what production step occurred in each country when multiple countries appear on the label. For example, animals born and riased in Country X and slaughtered in Country Y might be labeled as "Born and Raised in Country X and Slaughter in Country Y." Animals born in Country X but Raised and Slaughtered in Country Y might be labeled as "Born in Country X and Raised and Slaughtered in Country Y."

Processed Foods
The definition of processed foods contained in the Final Rule may be too broadly drafted. Even if products are subject to curing, smoking, broiling, grilling, or steaming, voluntary labeling would be appropriate.

Inventory Allowance
The language of the Final Rule allows a label for ground meat product to bear the name of a country, even if product from that country was not present in the processor's inventory, for up to 60 days. This provision allows for labels to be used in a way that does not clearly indicate the product's country of origin. Reducing the time allowance to ten days would limit the amount of product with these labels and would enhance credibility of the label.

This does nothing to address the fact that all meat sold at butcher shops or fish markets are exempt from COOL, or the fact that a bag of frozen mixed vegetables is considered "processed" (so is fruit salad) because a few different foods are mixed together. If companies comply with Vilsack's voluntary requests, a lot of other things ARE accounted for - but what are the chances that everyone voluntarily complies?

I hope this is not a hint of what's to come from the Obama administration, because COOL was an issue Obama included in his platform during his campaign and once in office. If this weak treatment of COOL is how his administration handles issues they are clearly and vocally FOR, what happens on all the rest of his campaign promises or all of the things we ask for that he hasn't come out in favor of??

By the way - Byron Dorgan and 6 other Senators wrote Vilsack a letter asking him to close the loopholes. I doubt Dorgan and his fellow Senate Democrats meant that the loophole fix should be voluntary.

Discuss :: (5 Comments)

Vilsack is Not as COOL as I Thought

by: Jill Richardson

Thu Feb 19, 2009 at 09:20:44 AM PST

Earlier this week I wrote about Vilsack's attempt to implement stricter voluntary labeling standards. I left part of the story out though. The existing COOL (Country of Origin Labeling) rules, weak as they are, really piss Canada off. And Obama is in Canada this week.

Well, the man chickened out. At the last minute, he canceled his press conference on the subject (due to a "scheduling conflict"). Looks like Canada's winning this round - beating out the 92% of Americans who want their food labeled with country of origin:

The Canadian government has criticized strict labeling rules on meat in the U.S., fearing that American consumers would prefer homegrown beef, and is likely to raise objections to Mr. Vilsack's plans.

Canada would resume its World Trade Organization complaint against U.S. labeling rules for meat and fresh produce if Obama decides to change them, Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz told Bloomberg news. "Should the Obama administration continue on with protectionism, we will then re-ignite our WTO challenge," Ritz said.

Obama listed COOL on his platform during the campaign and once in office. Vilsack said that Obama will discuss it with the Canadians during his time there. Obama's got until March 16 to do something about Bush's weak COOL rules (they'll be permanent as of that day). Let's hope he can come to some agreement with the Canadians.

But Obama Foodorama has even more speculation - is the problem that held up Vilsack's press conference perhaps meat industry lobbyists, and not Canada at all?

More on Vilsack below (about his recent public appearances)...

There's More... :: (4 Comments, 517 words in story)

Tom Vilsack, A Man of Contradiction

by: Jill Richardson

Tue Feb 17, 2009 at 17:03:52 PM PST

Boy oh boy. Tom Vilsack has really gone and done it. He's called for stricter voluntary labeling rules. Won't all of those businesses be pissed off at the "big government," "anti-business" Dems now. Oh, wait. Voluntary. Hmm. Guess nobody's feathers will be ruffled after all. No can someone tell me why the words "stricter" and "voluntary" are used together in a sentence?

The specific rule in question is COOL - Country of Origin Labeling. Bush issued a pitifully inadequate rule that is set to go into effect March 16, and the Obama administration committed to reviewing it before that date. Vilsack says that the Bush rules are inadequate, but he didn't want to start up a new round of rulemaking because he didn't want "a vacuum that would be created by the process."

So instead, Vilsack's just asking the meat industry nicely if it would please label each meat package with the country in which the animal was born, the country where it was raised, and the country where it was slaughtered. If the meat packers don't respond to Vilsack quickly, THEN he'll start making an actual rule.

Secretary Vilsack, the problem voluntary rules is that industry can voluntary comply until it doesn't want to anymore - and then there's no enforcement mechanism. Please don't make this a common strategy for the USDA under your watch.

More below...

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 161 words in story)

COOL Final Rule Issued by USDA

by: Jill Richardson

Wed Jan 21, 2009 at 22:10:12 PM PST

The USDA just issued its final rules for COOL - country of origin labeling. COOL first went into effect for seafood in 2005, but it did not go into effect for "everything else" until Sept 30, 2008 - and it was not actually enforced until the beginning of 2009. By everything else, I mean:

muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), lamb, pork, chicken, and goat meat; perishable agricultural commodities; peanuts; pecans; ginseng; and macadamia nuts.

The law also specifies that the label must be in a "conspicuous location" so that you, the consumer, can actually SEE it. What an idea!

Retail Notification to the Consumer - The label must be in a conspicuous location and legible to allow consumers to identify the country(ies) of origin.  Retailers may commingle covered commodities from more than one country of origin provided all possible origins are listed.

The fine print and an explanation of loopholes in the law is detailed below. This rule will not go into effect for 60 days (right now there is an interim final rule that is in effect though, so you SHOULD be seeing some labels on your food.)

There's More... :: (5 Comments, 741 words in story)

Supply and demand in the land of COOL

by: Joanne Rigutto

Thu Jan 01, 2009 at 08:59:54 AM PST

( - promoted by Jill Richardson)

I've been studying international trade issues affecting animal agriculture for 3 years now. I got into this to facilitate my activities in the fight against the National Animal ID System (NAIS). However the whole international trade environment and it's attendant issues are really fascinating in and of themselves. How countries interact with each other, and how people feed themselves, how the media perceives and reports on issues related to ag and international trade, these are just a few of the things that make this area of study truely amazing.  I tell ya, it's a whole different world out there.
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Mexico Stops Importing U.S. Meat

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Dec 29, 2008 at 16:00:00 PM PST

I'll be crying no tears for the meat companies impacted by this move...

Mexico Suspends U.S. Meat Imports

Mexico has suspended meat imports from 30 processing plants in 14 states, including Smithfield Packing Inc., which is based in North Carolina.

The news was released on the U.S. Department of Agriculture Web site.

Smithfield is the world's largest pork slaughterhouse.

According to the Associated Press, other companies that will be affected by this move are Tyson Foods, Inc., Cargill Inc., ConAgra Foods Inc., and Swift Foods Inc.

The ban could greatly affect Tyson because high feed prices have already strained its profits and Mexico represented 23 percent of its international sales in 2008.

Authorities believe the suspensions may be in retaliation for the U.S. putting a country-of-origin labeling law into effect earlier this year in response to concerns the safety of imports.

The country-of-origin labeling law mandates the separation of foreign cattle and pigs in U.S. feedlots and packing plants.  Foreign animals are also now required to have more documentation about where they come from and have tags that indicate they are free of mad cow disease.

Discuss :: (2 Comments)

Tales From The Larder: Lessons in Label Reading

by: Asinus Asinum Fricat

Thu Nov 27, 2008 at 14:37:45 PM PST

Being born into a family of hoteliers had some advantages. As a kid I used to spend most of my winter time reading in the hotel larder because it was quiet, the overhead lighting was good and the smells were reassuring. And it was also a place where I could sneak in a few slices of bread, hack a bit of hard cheese, sit on my chair and daydream about the origins of all the products we managed to store between bouts of reading. René Descartes liked to do his thinking in bed, I did mine in the larder. It was my domain throughout the winters and certainly not the place to be in the summertime as the hotel was taken over from April to October by a brigade of noisy, fellow loons.

So it was in that larder that I became seriously interested in food and I made a point of scrutinizing and itemizing every tin, bottle, bag, boxed spices, jars, blocks of cheese, preserves and all the hanging charcuterie; the country hams from various regions, the army of salamis, the rings of smoked sausages...I became an expert in label reading and developed a nose for sniffing out rancidity and spoiled goods.  

There's More... :: (1 Comments, 784 words in story)

COOL Labels are Coming Soon!

by: Jill Richardson

Mon Sep 15, 2008 at 16:00:00 PM PDT

September 30, 2008 is rapidly approaching and if you're a food obsessed geek like me, that can only mean one thing: Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling! Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) was first passed in 2002 but met with resistance from the food industry and its bitch, the USDA. As a result, implementation of the law was mostly delayed until now (even though a Consumer Reports poll found that 92% of Americans support it).

COOL is already required for seafood but now it will be extended to beef, pork, chicken, lamb, fruits, veggies, and peanuts. Processed foods are exempt. The Chicago Tribune ran a pretty good article on the subject, New Law Requires Labels on Meat.

Please note that the USDA's rules for COOL are currently considered "interim," which means that they are in effect but they will be issuing final rules in the near future. In the meantime, we'll probably have the opportunity to comment on the interim rule at Also, check out this PDF by Consumers Union that helps consumers understand the new rules.

There's More... :: (4 Comments, 621 words in story)
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