by Amy Lesperance, NFU Intern

As many in the agriculture community are celebrating the spirit of the American family farmer today around the “Ag Day” celebration, NFU is encouraging consumers and producers alike to understand how food is produced. Many of us don’t know much about the origin of the meat we buy.  Whether dinner tonight is ground beef in their tacos or chicken in their stir fry, consumers should be able to easily tell where their dinner comes from. A strong Country-of-Origin Labeling law, commonly referred to as COOL, gives consumers the right to access the knowledge needed to make informed decisions about whom they are supporting with their purchase.

Going through the grocery aisles can be stressful enough when trying to find a desired product or make wise nutritional choices. American consumers want to be confident that dependable farmers with an incentive to deliver safe, abundant, and affordable products provided the foods they are eating. Strong country-of-origin labeling dispels what has been a potential source for confusion or even an inability to find answers about where our food has been.

COOL has come under fire in recent year by a challenge through the World Trade Organization. In order to come into compliance with WTO rules, the COOL rules need to be changed. They need to be strengthened to provide better information to consumers. Strengthening COOL rules would require origin designations for animals slaughtered in the United States to specify the production steps from birth to slaughter and would no longer allow for commingling of muscle cut covered commodities of different origins, meaning that U.S. consumers would have more information with which to make decisions about muscle cut covered commodities. According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the proposed strengthened COOL rules would not raise consumer prices. They also would not, as packers and processors insist, pose significant additional implementation costs since no new information will be required from processors or packers.

For those of us who prefer to purchase quality meat that is born, raised and slaughtered in the United States, thereby supporting agriculture’s strong role in the American economy, COOL makes such information easy to find right on the product’s packaging at the time of purchase. As world food markets become increasingly connected, the products on small town grocery stores are now traveling further distances during their journey to the dinner table. With a strengthened COOL rule, families can have peace of mind knowing more about from where their main course came.

COOL is a way to provide more information and more accurate details to concerned consumers. In order to comply with the WTO ruling, farmers and ranchers do not need to be burdened by collecting additional information; regulations simply need to be strengthened so consumers can access the information that is already collected. As we celebrate Ag Day, make sure you spread the word about the importance of being able to make informed choices about food by supporting the strengthening of COOL rules. And more importantly, submit comments to USDA’s Ag Marketing Service supporting the strengthening of COOL rules. Comments must be received by April 11, 2013, and should be submitted electronically at http://www.regulations.gov/, or to Julie Henderson, Director; USDA, AMS, LPS, COOL Division; 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Room 2620-S; Washington, DC 20250; telephone number 202-720-4486; or fax 202-260-4486.

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