Congress hears an earful about country-of-origin labeling

Testifying before a House Agriculture Subcommittee, representatives of food trade associations gave a resounding "no" to country-of-origin labeling legislation that requires disclosure of the origins of specific ingredients as well as the product itself.

The American Frozen Food Institute, the National Food Processors Assn., Grocery Manufacturers of America and the Food Marketing Institute offered a host of reasons why such requirements would do more harm than good. Proposed country-of-origin labeling would, according to these groups: confuse consumers, violate international trade law, invite retaliation by U.S. trading partners and cost food manufacturers (and ultimately, consumers) tens of millions of dollars. "Processors will be forced to maintain an inventory of labels reflecting all possible combinations of countries from which imported products have originated--a costly undertaking that would eventually be passed on to the consumer," NFPA told Congress. The food groups pointed to a report on country-of-origin labeling for raw produce from the government's General Accounting Office in which GAO said it would cost FDA $56 million a year to inspect and confirm where products originate, and that enforcement would be difficult. GAO also noted other countries could construe mandatory labeling as a trade barrier. This requirement would provide a road map for other countries seeking to limit the growth of U.S. food imports, warned GMA.

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