USDA issues proposed COOL rule

The law, the 2002 farm bill, requires that packaging for selected cuts of beef, lamb and pork; ground beef, ground lamb and ground pork; farm raised fish and shellfish; wild fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (fresh and frozen fruit and vegetables); and peanuts include the country of origin.

In addition, the labeling for fish and shellfish must include and distinguish between wild and farm raised fish and shellfish.

Analysts say the mandatory country-of-origin labeling could cost as low as $500 million and as high as $3.9 billion in the first year and $100 million to $600 in each year following.

USDA said commodities can be excluded from mandatory COOL requirements if they are an ingredient in a processed food item. Examples of covered commodities excluded under this provision of the proposed rule would be bacon, orange juice, mixed nuts and fruit/vegetable party trays.

Food service establishments, such as restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, food stands, bars, lounges and similar enterprises are exempt from the mandatory country of origin labeling requirements.

Under the proposed rule, a covered commodity can only bear a "United States country of origin" declaration if certain criteria are met.

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