The Struggles of COOL


James Wright, Senior Editor

Published on
March 18, 2008

Since April 2005, U.S. retailers have been required by law to list the country-of-origin and method of production (wild or farmed) for seafood products, whether canned, frozen or in the display cooler. Not until Sept. 30 will other covered commodities (beef, pork, poultry, produce and peanuts) have to do the same �" lobbyists reportedly spent more than $29 million to fund those delays. But as you'll see in our April Top Story, "The Call for COOL," federal audit statistics show that many retailers are struggling to comply with the law when it comes to labeling seafood.

Martin O'Connor, chief of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agricultural Marketing Service, told me that while outreach efforts regarding COOL by the seafood and retail industries were largely effective at the outset, there's much room for improvement. In 2006, the first year that the USDA conducted retail seafood COOL audits, 40.5 percent of the 1,159 reviews revealed labeling violations, an average of 1.6 violations per review.

Last year showed some improvement, as only 32.6 percent of reviews had violations. But of the 1,657 audits conducted, there was an average of two violations per review. It's clear that seafood's sheer complexity provides many opportunities for mistakes. O'Connor added that 68 percent of the reviews conducted on previous offenders revealed compliance. I'd say that's the most promising development.

What's troubling about the audits are the types of violations being documented. The two most common offenses were failure to label the origin and failure to label the method of production. This indicates that seafood suppliers, who are also responsible for providing accurate information to their customers, could also do better. As one retail consultant told me recently, "In this day and age, you really should be tracking where your food is from."

COOL is not going to go away, considering all the attention it's getting in the media and on Capitol Hill. If anything, this law will only expand to include more foods and consumer goods and ensnare the various industries involved in international trade. If you aren't actively pursuing all possible information about your food supply, you should get started now.

Thank you, James Wright Assistant Editor SeaFood Business

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