Agriculture secretary calls for stricter COOL rules
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack late last week released a letter encouraging the food industry to voluntarily adopt stricter country-of-origin labeling (COOL) practices than the ones laid out in the final rule due for release on 16 March.
Vilsack said in the letter that he wants to see companies more clearly label where farmed animals were born, raised and slaughtered. He also said he wants to see the definition of "processed foods" narrowed to include more types of food.
"I strongly support [COOL] - it's a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food," said Vilsack. "The [USDA] will be closely reviewing industry compliance with the rule and will evaluate the practicality of the suggestions for voluntary action in my letter."
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is still determining whether seafood will be affected by Vilsack's recommendations, according to Patty Lovera, assistant director of Food & Water Watch. She had asked the secretary about it during a conference call on 17 February, when word got out that Vilsack was making the recommendations.
COOL was part of the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills. It went into effect for seafood on 4 April 2005, requiring supermarkets to label seafood as to its country of origin and whether it's wild or farmed. But COOL for beef, lamb, pork, chicken and other animal products was delayed until 30 September 2008.
Food & Water Watch is among the groups that support stricter COOL guidelines and narrower definitions of "processed foods" and "retailer." Currently, processed foods such as smoked seafood are exempt from COOL, as are retailers who sell predominately seafood.
Vilsack's letter is available at www.usda.gov/documents/0220_IndustryLetterCOOL.pdf.