In early June 2015, Congress passed the Country of Origin Labeling Amendments Act of 2015, which repeals the requirement that meat and poultry be labeled with the country of origin. The labeling requirement, COOL, originally was implemented in 2013 to allow consumers the right to information about the source of their food. The reasoning behind the strong political retaliation is due to the retaliatory tariffs from Canada and Mexico, as well as the additional burden on US meat processors who often sell multi-sourced products. The regulation created an extra burden for them, sometimes in the form of deterred consumers who were interested in domestic sourcing.
Does it Matter Where My Food Came From?
The answer to this question is very subjective. From a safety standpoint, the FDA and USDA are very discerning and cautious about standards, and would not knowingly import food from producers that do not meet minimum production standards. But the premise upon which the local food movement is based has far less to do with safety than with values, nutrition, integrity and transparency.
- Economics – purchasing domestically-sourced meat delivers the American dollar back to America. Keeping the business of beef within the borders promotes the American economy. Opponents of COOL, however, recognize that USA labeling on meat and poultry hinders the sale of imported beef. Countries that sell to America are negatively affected by COOL, and can weaken trade relationships with neighboring nations. In this case, the US had been facing up to $3.6 billion in potential retaliatory tariffs.
- Freshness – animals that are slaughtered closer to the sale location make it to the market sooner, and are inherently fresher.
- Control – advocates of the local food movement often take a personal interest in the process of growing food or raising livestock. Despite strict USDA standards for imported meat, there is no transparency in meat sourcing without labeling.
- Energy – local food travels less. Local meat is a greener option for some consumers.
- Fair trading practices – Fair Trade USA does not offer a stamp of approval for international meat and poultry products, but this does not mean they are immune to the expectation of fair trade practices, responsible farming and treatment of employees. Domestic farms have a greater degree of accountability to the US government and to the surrounding community.
- Right to know – probably the biggest advantage of COOL labeling is that it respects the consumer’s right to information about the sourcing of food.
Foods that are covered by COOL
The passing of the COOL amendment did not repeal the country of origin labeling requirements for non-meat/poultry items. The following foods are still required by the FDA to be labeled according to geographical source:
- Lamb, goat and chicken
- Farm raised fish and shellfish
- Wild fish and shellfish
- Fresh and frozen produce
- Peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts
COOL is not the only way that foods can be labeled with their country of origin, however. There are a variety of verification organizations that ensure sourcing integrity for different products, both domestic and imported. For example, many individuals are keenly interested in the origin of olive oils. Below are three common labels for olive oil:
- IGP – Indicazione Geografica Protetta – Italian: Indication of Geographical Protection – monitors origin claims in at least one phase of production
- DOP – Denominazione di Origine Protetta – Italian: Protected Designation of Origin; can also be used for Balsamic Vinegar or similar foods – monitors origin claims in all phases of production
- COOC – California Olive Oil Council seal of certification
California Olive Oil Council. (2015). About the Seal.
Ciprietti, Elena. (23 July 2013). DOP Foods of Italy: What They Are and How to Find Them. Walks of Italy.
DeWeerdt, Sarah. (2011). Is Local Food Better? Worldwatch Institute.
USDA. (2015). Country of Origin Labeling for Meat and Chicken. FSIS.
Origin Labeling for Meat. Food Safety News.