Country Of Origin Labeling Officially Begins Today

The long-awaited country of origin labeling or COOL will be enforced beginning today — so you can expect to see a “COOL” on “muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), pork, lamb, goat and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng.”

Most foods packaged (canned, boxed or bagged) in another country have had to be labeled as such already, and this new law extends the practice to fresh foods. Still, there are lots of exceptions. Here’s a little chart that will give you an idea of what to expect at the grocery store.



Meat sold in supermarkets. Meat sold in butcher shops. Labeling is only required in stores that purchase a certain minimum amount ($230,000) of fresh or frozen produce a year. Butchers do not purchase any produce, so meat sold by them is exempt.

Fish sold in supermarkets.
Fish sold in fish markets. Labeling is only required in stores that purchase a certain minimum amount ($230,000) of fresh or frozen produce a year. Fish markets do not purchase any produce, so fish sold there is exempt.

Raw peanuts Roasted peanuts, peanut butter (processed food is exempt).*

Pork chops
Ham and Bacon (processed food is exempt).* +

Sliced cantaloupe
Fruit Salad (mixtures are exempt).*

Raw almonds
Trail Mix (mixtures are exempt).*

Frozen carrots
Frozen peas and carrots (mixtures are exempt).*

Raw shrimp
Cooked shrimp (cooking is considered processing, which is exempt).*

Fresh salmon
Smoked salmon (smoking is considered processing, which is exempt).*

Frozen peas Canned peas (processed food is exempt).*

Bagged lettuce
Bagged Mixed Salad Greens (mixtures are exempt).*

Lettuce in produce section
Lettuce in salad bars (restaurants are exempt, including supermarket salad bars).

*Except if packaged or canned abroad, in which case COOL is required, under older laws.
+The Bush Administration’s final rule on COOL was published on January 16, 2009. However, Tom Vilsack, the
incoming Secretary of Agriculture, thought that portions of the final rule created loopholes that violated “the letter,
spirit and intent” of the law and so, on February 20, 2009, he send a letter to the industry asking them to close
those loopholes. For processing, the letter states, “The definition of processed contained in the Final Rule may
be too broadly drafted. Even if products are subject to curing, smoking, broiling, grilling, or steaming, voluntary
labeling would be appropriate.” If the companies do not label such items with COOL, Secretary Vilsack has said
the USDA would amend the regulations to require COOL in such cases.

COOL rules on food labeling now fully in effect [Consumer Reports]
(Photo:Mr. Oliver)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    We have had this in Britain for ages, but all is not as it seems.

    Lets say you see “Welsh Lamb” (at triple the cost of any other lamb) on the shelf. Now, it COULD have been born and raised in the Welsh countryside, but more likely it was born in Ireland, shipped to France where it grew a little bit, then shipped to Wales where it was slaughtered and processed. Even if it literally spent an hour alive in Wales, they can call it Welsh Lamb.

    You have been warned.

  2. valarmorghulis says:

    So they still won’t have to say if my salsa is made in New York city?

  3. reidnez says:

    Why are there so many exemptions? A great many of the recent food-poisoning scandals (if not the majority) have involved processed foods and domestic foods. I am much more confident in the wholesomeness of fresh produce than I am in anything that comes in a box or can. The latest scare involved *domestic* peanut butter, if I’m not mistaken. Avoiding the Chinese poison train is a start, but it won’t make you safe.

    This really doesn’t mean much unless we couple it with a complete restructuring of the domestic inspection process. There are at least three federal agencies involved in inspecting production plants, and the statistic I read stated that only 5% of all facilities are inspected in a given year. We need to designate one agency to be wholly responsible and mandate that all facilities are inspected at least annually.

    • Stoli says:

      @reidnez: Agreed. I mean, it’s a step in the right direction, but a few more steps could’ve been taken.

    • Plates says:

      Q:Why are there so many exemptions?

      A: Lobbyists and corrupt politicians!

      • skormos says:


        Yah. The meat industry is the worst. The USDA can inspect, but they have no authority to force a recall. It has to be negotiated, before the numbers can be released to the public, then after about 3-4 weeks of going back and forth (and a good amount of it has been consumed) will the public get a chance to return it to their market.

        Fast Food Nation was incredibly enlightening. =)

    • Easton21 says:

      @reidnez: Yeah good call!
      WAIT! Who’s gonna pay for this? I’m not willing to pay a $3 tax on an apple to offset the cost of twenty times more USDA employees.
      Oh darn, looks like it’s not as simple as waving a magic wand.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @reidnez: “Why are there so many exemptions?”

      It’s an attempt to balance safety, practicality, and cost, as well as to suit the interests of Big Food while not driving the small guys out of business.

      If you have a robust local food market (and lots of locavores), that actually IS a pretty transparent market that WILL self-police *fairly* well (for most problems). So the feds don’t need to worry as much about inspecting, say, a 50-head beef farm that sells all its beef within a 200-mile radius direct-to-consumer. You probably don’t need labeling, etc. (One can imagine a wide variety of scenarios of grossness that could still go on, but most of them would get caught by consumers fairly quickly.) Or inspection of these small operations could be left to the states (especially if all sales are in-state). You probably don’t need labeling and inspection for the Amish lady’s jams at the farmer’s market. Again, it will self-police pretty well because it’s a small, fairly transparent market — and in these cases, it’s very easy to sue and you know exactly where it came from. (You might require small producers to carry a small quantity of insurance or bonding to make the lawsuit regime more functional.)

      Large food systems are much less transparent, and require much more regulation to protect consumers.

  4. maevealleine says:

    From the look of things, this labelling system seems almost pointless.

  5. Batwaffel says:

    I find it amusing that butchers are getting an “uncool” rating even though most of the butchers get their meats from local farmers (at least in rural areas or outside of big cities), most of which avoid things like hormone injections and are raised in better conditions, usually free range.

    • Leksi Wit says:

      @Batwaffel: I agree, but that’s why you usually have a relationship with these people and conversation about the meat/fish you’re purchasing. A lot of times they can tell you what fishing boat the meat came from, or what bay/harbor and fishing company. They’ll have direct relationships with the food source, so COOL isn’t even needed in small-time operations anyway.

  6. ohenry says:

    @Batwaffel: I think the point of the “uncool” label is that they’re un-“COOL”-labeled. Meaning simply that they don’t have to have the Country of Origin Label (COOL), not so much that they actually are sucky or anything.

  7. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    Man, law is weird.

  8. StutiCebriones says:

    I agree with batwaffel about butchers, and I’m surprised that farmers markets aren’t labeled as UNCOOL here too. Check under the table. A lot of that produce isn’t coming from that farm or even, necessarily, this country.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @StutiCebriones: Depends on the market, and some farmers-market-finding websites label whether they allow “foreign” food or not. We have one that’s just “fresh produce” and they are allowed to import (nationally or internationally) … the other requires all producers to be within 100 miles of the city, and are permanently expelled if they bring in external products (with very limited exceptions).

      It’s also a small enough area that we KNOW half the farmers at this point, and virtually all of them have visitor-open farms.

  9. bohemian says:

    Some of the loopholes are troubling but forcing the fish counters at the local grocery stores to declare where things came from is a big deal.

    There are issues with fish in certain countries being treated with chemicals and antibiotics that they should not be. The stores have not been very forthcoming about origin in the past, now they have to.

  10. Corporate-Shill says:

    Authentic Pond Raised Catfish from Mississippi.

    None of the Delta Catfish from the Mekong Delta for me.

  11. ZoeSchizzel says:

    With all its exemptions, this is still a great step forward for the informed consumer. A vast majority of people will not care (for whatever reasons — lack of time, lack of knowledge, lack of money to shop elsewhere anyway) but those that do care should have the option of KNOWING and making an informed decision. Just because this may not result in an instant change in consumer behavior doesn’t mean that it’s not valuable to those who can make choices.

  12. MinchinWeb says:

    The COOL law has a bit of a dark side to it too, and many in the Alberta (Canadian) cattle industry worry it is more of a protectionist trade measure than a concern with health. Things like NAFTA have promoted free trade between Canada and the States, and the cattle industry has become rather integrated. The fear now is that the labeling requirements will force feedlots and slaughterhoses located in the States to effectively run two operations – one for ‘American’ cows and one for ‘Canadian’ cows – and so many will just decide to forego buying Canadian as they have in the past. The unfortunate result is higher prices for American consumers due to lower competition.

    • Easton21 says:

      I strongly disagree. That seems to go against the very fabric of capitalism and the reason NAFTA was implemented.
      If feedlots and slaughterhouses forgo buying Canadian cows, they will have make up the difference with more American cows, or cut back. Either option will create an opportunity for a competitor to pick up their Canadian cows “on sale”, and thusly their slack. It would result in lower prices for everyone. It’s Economics 101.

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @MinchinWeb: Dude, I’m like the queen of picky food buying based on country of origin (I will buy certain produce from Mexico but not other produce, based on pesticide laws in Mexico), and I buy Canadian on purpose. Why would I avoid buying food from the Great White North? Y’all have magic things like a “food safety regime.” I WANT to know if my beef is Canadian … I will buy that preferentially.

      About the only thing I can think of that I wouldn’t buy from Canada on purpose is apples, but I try to only buy apples from Michigan since my grandpa was a Michigan apple farmer. :)

      I sincerely doubt my supermarket will have a pile of “Canadian ground beef” and a pile of “American ground beef” — they’ll have a display of ground beef, I will look at the package and see that it says “Canada” or “USA,” and I will say, “Sweet, ground beef this week!”

  13. faust1200 says:

    How are these signs supposed to help me decide what to buy? Why don’t they mandate a sign says “No foreign objects or poison” Now that would be helpful.

  14. gStein_*|bringing starpipe back|* says:

    the “mixtures are exempt” loophome makes this almost worthless.
    “i could sell my carrots as ‘from china’ and sell my peas as ‘from china’, or i can mix them all together and don’t have to state where they’re from!” seems like this will either drive down the cost of mixes, drive up the cost of “pure” ingredients, or a combination of the 2. or you will see some food distributors labeling their mixes as “AMERICAN GROWN” in a very prominent label, along with a big promotion

  15. Mr.DuckSauce says:

    @Easton21: Whats 3$ when you have intestinal disorder when you eat bad meats or produce from one of these factories that was not inspected because of not enough manpower out there to inspect them and then you have to go to the hospital in which will rack up debts if your without insurance or worse in which the condition is fatal and the insurance company if you have one, will not give a go ahead on some procedure in which to save you in the end, 3 extra dollars is not that big of a stake when it comes to your health and life since you will not be able to use it if these will wind you up in the ground.

  16. Red_Eye says:

    So basically its a law that makes the big mega marts look good and your local small butcher and fish monger look bad. Wow cool nothing like shafting the last few that WalMart didn’t already put out of business.

    • Anonymous says:

      @Red_Eye: i couldn’t have said it better myself.

      why on earth would we want to encourage people to abandon their local small businesses, when there are so few left, to go to the mega marts??

      perhaps if more people in america were less concerned with consuming as much as possible for as little cost as possible, we wouldn’t be in this mess (current economic crisis) in the first place. you absolutely get what you pay for.

    • giggitygoo says:


      What? The law mandates bigger stores label their products and exempts small stores – nothing says the small stores can’t also label their products if they so desire. Anything for an excuse to blame Walmart, eh?

      • ngoandy says:

        @giggitygoo: The local butchers and produce people usually label where they get their stuff from anyway.

        What kind of ‘local’ butcher is going to be importing beef anyway?

  17. PittDragon says:

    Question: If you’re going to an un-COOL place, is there any way to find out where the products originated from or can they say “screw you, now eat this mystery meat with the secret sauce”

  18. hi says:

    What does produce or processed food have to do with meat? And why are these things exempt?

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      @hi: My *guess* is that specialty butcher shops rarely have problems and tend to buy fairly locally; imported meat is primarily a supermarket issue. So instead of mandating based on amount of meat sold (which might catch a large specialty butcher), they’re mandating that you sell a large quantity of diverse products — that is, you sell enough produce that we can tell a) you sell lots of different stuff and b) you’re big.

      I can imagine a situation where, say, a Target that’s not a SuperTarget sells tons of frozen beef but no produce and would evade the law that’s meant to catch it, but one imagines Target would have a handful of suppliers serving all its stores and so would buy labeled so it wouldn’t have to sort “labeled” and “unlabeled” based on the Target store’s superness.

  19. sapere_aude says:

    I’m all for having COOL on products. It’s good to know where your food is coming from and be able to make a proper choice. Now if we can just get them to start labeling GMO foods also.

  20. JGKojak says:

    Some of the exceptions should be there for small farmers- asking them to comply with some of the stringent requirements (bar code tracking of all livestock) is really just a way to put them out of business by coroporate agriculture.

  21. vladthepaler says:

    What does it actually mean if there’s a label that says COOL on, say, a package of supermarket meat? I mean, is cool meat more or less desirable than uncool meat, and why?

  22. Ssscorpion says:

    I would prefer to see the amount of potassium in foods. High blood pressure leads to many health problems in America and the potassium-to-sodium ratio is key to lower blood pressure.

    (The goal, as I understand it, is to have a ratio of 4:1.)

  23. MissPiss says:

    I say we do not get all worked up about this and have a lovely glass of milk from China, and a delicious peanut butter sandwich from the US in celebration of this “COOL”ness.

  24. darkryd says:

    Great. Now can we move on to requiringlabeling on “genetically modified” food products?