Austin, TX (May 1, 2003) - During a U.S. Department of Agriculture hearing today in Austin, Texas Farmers Union President Wes Sims outlined consumer and producer benefits of a mandatory country-of-origin food labeling law.
Sims, who operates a diversified family farm in Sweetwater, Texas, called the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law "one of the most important efforts to ensure the survivability and to enhance economic opportunities for U.S., independent livestock and produce farmers."
In both oral and written comments to USDA officials, Sims asserted that the COOL law included in the 2002 farm bill will benefit independent farmers and ranchers.
"Country-of-origin labeling provides U.S. producers, as well as those from other countries, with a mechanism that allows for product differentiation in the marketplace," he said. "This is really no different than the retail product differentiation sought by processors and retailers when they label or brand products as a means to gain acceptance and loyalty and increase their share of the market."
Sims said he took exception to claims that the new law would excessively burden producers. "As an independent Texas agriculture producer, I am offended by the scare tactics that large agribusiness's are using to deter farmers and ranchers from supporting this beneficial law," he said. "Many producers have received threats of third-party verification from meatpackers. There is nothing in the country-of-origin labeling law that requires third-party verification or burdensome audit trails."
While the debate over the merits of the law continues, USDA's Agriculture Marketing Service is holding a series of listening sessions across the country, like the one in Austin, to gather comments about the mandatory country-of-origin labeling rules, which will go into effect by September 2004.
The Texas Farmers Union leader encouraged farmers and ranchers to unite in support of the law to ensure it is implemented with the true intent of the law.
"We should all be focused on the development of the rules and regulations to allow for the law's implementation in the most efficient and least burdensome manner possible," he said. "Farmers Union will continue to work with USDA to make sure COOL is implemented in a way that provides accurate and appropriate information to consumers while minimizing the cost and potential liability for producers, processors and retailers."
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