USDA issues guidelines for interim voluntary country-of-origin labeling

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued interim voluntary country-of-origin labeling guidelines for certain commodities as required in the 2002 Farm Bill. Included in USDA's definition of “covered commodity” are frozen fruits and vegetables.

The Farm Bill requires USDA to establish a voluntary country-of-origin marking program for beef, pork, lamb, peanuts, farm-raised fish, and perishable agricultural commodities as defined by the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, regardless of whether they are produced in the United States or abroad. The Farm Bill also requires mandatory labeling guidelines by 2004.

“The American Frozen Food Institute won a significant battle during the legislative process excluding items which are an ingredient of a processed food product,” said Mike Gill, AFFI's vice-president of legislative affairs. “This exempted most frozen food products from the marking requirement.”

However, USDA guidelines do consider frozen fruits and vegetables as a “covered commodity” under the Farm Bill, and they may be labeled to indicate their country of origin under the voluntary guidelines. Under the Tariff Act of 1934, frozen produce grown in a foreign nation is already required to be labeled as to its country of origin. Therefore, the cost of these new country-of-origin marking requirements will be borne mainly by US food processors who source US-grown produce.

This summer, AFFI assumed the chairmanship of the Food Industry Trade Coalition, a group opposed to new trade barriers on agricultural products, such as mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements.

“As it stands, these voluntary labeling guidelines are going to be used by USDA as the blueprint for the mandatory guidelines scheduled to be released in 2004. The coalition will continue to work with USDA to craft more effective and less burdensome country-of-origin marking requirements,” said Gill.

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