Food Labels Lack Country Of Origin Info Despite 5 Year Old Law

Unlike seafood, the meat, produce and nuts you buy don’t have a country of origin label, despite a 5 year old law that says they should, according to the New York Times. Lobbyists and congresspeople have managed to hold off enforcement of the law since it was passed in 2002, but now proponents of country of origin labels (COOL) think they may have enough momentum from the Chinese Poison Train to finally make the label a reality. From the NYT:

“No. 1, there’s a basic consumer right to know,” said Michael Hansen, senior scientist at Consumers Union, an advocacy group that publishes Consumer Reports magazine and supports the labeling law. “People are more and more concerned about the food they eat.”

But the labeling law has formidable foes, including the meat lobby, which so far has outmaneuvered its opponents on Capitol Hill. In the years since the labeling law was enacted as part of the 2002 Farm Bill, its opponents have successfully blocked all but seafood labeling from taking effect.

Both sides make interesting arguments:

The consumer, upon seeing the U.S.D.A. label, would naturally presume that it’s a U.S. product,” said Bill Bullard, chief executive of the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal fund, United Stockgrowers of America, an organization of cattle ranchers better known as R-Calf. He said the effect for meatpackers was that “they are able to bring in a cheaper product and sell it under the reputation of the U.S. cattle industry.”

Opponents of origin labeling say the measure is simply protectionism, aided by false claims about imported products. American meatpackers may stop buying imported cattle altogether given the costs of segregating and keeping track of such products.

They also say it would be difficult and expensive to label ground meat like hamburger, since it often includes meat from different cows.

“They talk about how the quality is better in the United States,” said Mark D. Dopp, senior vice president for regulator affairs and general counsel for the American Meat Institute, a trade group. “The standards are all the same. For these people to talk about how all this inferior product is coming in, it’s just nonsense.”

Ultimately, they’re all guessing what you’ll do when you see the label. Will you pay more for American food? Do you care?

Labels Lack Food’s Origin Despite Law [NYT]
(Photo: stirwise)

Comments

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  1. dbeahn says:

    Personally, I’d like to know where the food I’m eating came from.

  2. mopar_man says:

    This is why I buy my meat from a small mom & pop grocery store that cuts their own meat or I get meat from friends (fresh deer or cow). Not only do I have to not worry about the Chinese poisoning it, it also likely tastes a lot better.

  3. Hoss says:

    NYT: “The push for origin labeling started in the mid-1990s, when cattle ranchers grew frustrated by the influx of imported beef, particularly from Canada, as a result of trade agreements that opened the border to imports”

    Is it just me, or does Canadian beef sound more appealing? I certainly would not be less inclined to buy Canadian (Im sure people in cattle farming states feel differently)

  4. ssaoi says:

    If the shirts at Wal-mart are labeled where they come from, why not the food?

  5. bluemeep says:

    I’d definitely be willing to pony up a little more at the checkout if it meant knowing where my meat was coming from. Would I be less inclined to buy steak if I knew it came from a derainforested area? Absolutely.

  6. teh says:

    @Hossofcourse: I think that’s actually one of the reasons that this legislation is being blocked. When there were mad cow scares here, people were much more inclined to get their beef from elsewhere. Somewhere just over the rainbow where they test for mad cow and have enough inspectors to look at more than, what is it, .1% of the beef.

  7. ancientsociety says:

    No surprise here. The multinational food companies have blocked similar measures in the past (organic labeling, irradiated labeling, etc.) and their cronies in government have always protected their interests over the consumer.

  8. CumaeanSibyl says:

    I wouldn’t pay more for American meat specifically, but I would very much like to know what kind of meat I am paying for.

  9. BelBivDevolkswagen says:

    yet another reason to buy your beef from local farmers directly – better quality, and no questions about where it came from…

  10. mac-phisto says:

    The standards are all the same. For these people to talk about how all this inferior product is coming in, it’s just nonsense.

    interesting. so the american meat is just as poisonous. i’ll have to remember that.

  11. artki says:

    > Will you pay more for American food? Do you care?
    A few months ago I would have said I didn’t care. After reading more and more details about the wonderful world of Chinese toxic exports I care quite a bit!

  12. bohemian says:

    This is why I joined an order on a cow last night. One person knows the farmer, four families went in on the cow and costs to have it custom butchered at the local meat locker in the same small town as the farmer.
    We will probably order a hog the same way this fall.

    All of this questionable origin or domestic tainted food over the last year drastically changed how we buy our food.

  13. Charles Duffy says:

    @mac-phisto: I would believe that of the output of factory-farm meat. Local, grass-fed beef is a different matter; our last purchase (from Bastrop Cattle Company) came with documentation covering the individual animal’s diet and treatment (and the measures used to prevent ranchers from cheating), and the quality difference is obvious… yum!

  14. erica.blog says:

    There already is a law about this? I was saying to the spouse just last night, “Somebody should make it mandatory to include the country of origin on food labels!” Time to stop buying certain brands that don’t follow the rules that are in place…

    Yeah, I’d pay more for American-produced foods — not necessarily because I think they are inherently better, but because I am a diehard supporter of American manufacturing and agriculture. Why support some other country’s farmers when I could support my neighbors instead? The whole “world economy” is great if I want to get something unique from a foreign country, but not if I want something that I can get from a guy down the street.

  15. ancientsociety says:

    What’s interesting is I see “Country Of Origin” labels on most of the frozen seafood I buy, whether it be from Dominicks or Whole Foods. I never realized it until now but I’ve NEVER seen a CoO label on ANY meat product I’ve ever bought…

  16. TechnoDestructo says:

    “People are more and more concerned about the food they eat.”

    Yes, people are concerned, so if they knew this food was from china they woudln’t buy it! PLEASE GOVERNMENT, DON’T MAKE US ADDRESS PEOPLE’S CONCERNS!

    “They also say it would be difficult and expensive to label ground meat like hamburger, since it often includes meat from different cows.”

    Bullshit. Lies. LYING BULLSHIT.

    If orange juice companies can do it, the beef industry can do it. (“contains concentrate from the United States and/or Brazil” I only buy it if I know it’s from the US, because that’s the one fruit where the US is just completely and utterly superior.)

  17. TechnoDestructo says:

    @erica.blog: It’s also environmentally better. Food from Mexico or Canada might use less fuel to get to you depending where you are, than some parts of the US, but anything farther than definitely does.

  18. paco says:

    What scares me even more is that I still think we’re just at the tip of the iceberg with the contamination that has resulted from our collective push for cheaper, more abundant products. Oy.

  19. drenader says:

    The majority of beef that we use actually comes from Brazil.

  20. synergy says:

    I love how there’s the automatic assumption that U.S. meat is safe. Apparently they’ve never seen a kill floor. *shudder*

    Also, what’s to say that a product is labelled from one country but various components from which it’s made aren’t from somewhere else?

  21. AcidReign says:

    .
    .
    &nbsp &nbsp It would be interesting, to know for sure where the meat is from. I can’t imagine it being profitable for beef to be imported from China. Canada, yes. China, hard to say.

    &nbsp &nbsp I’m still amazed that China exports food. I remember when they had famines and had to import a chunk of their food! Free enterprise…

  22. legalbeagle123 says:

    Wow … what a poorly written post:

    Mistake #1 … relying on the NY Times.

    “… despite a 5 year old law that says they should.”

    So, if I understand this right, the law says meat “should” be labelled, not that it “shall” be labelled, right?

    So, nobody is violating the law … right?

    “But the labeling law has formidable foes, including the meat lobby, which so far has outmaneuvered its opponents on Capitol Hill.”

    So, if that’s correct, then what that means is that those who wish to see country-of-origin labelling have failed to make their case to lawmakers. Right?

    Nothing to see here folks … except Democracy in action.