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Don't repeal country-of-origin labeling on food

Congress should keep COOL; U.S. consumers want to know where their food comes from

Published: June 12, 2015 10:10 AM

Are you willing to buy food without knowing where it comes from?

Food labels give you important information about the products you put in your shopping cart and, ultimately, on your table. But one of the labels that lets you know where your groceries come from is under legislative siege.

When you buy certain meat ​and poultry ​products there’s usually country-of-origin labeling—or COOL—that tells you where the food was ​born, raised, and ​slaughtered​. Those standards, passed by Congress in both 2002 and 2008 and overseen by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, were developed to give you valuable information when you’re shopping. In the event of a food-borne illness outbreak, for example, country-of-origin labeling can help you avoid potential risks or easily identify products that you prefer.

At Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, we strongly support country-of-origin labeling. You deserve the right to know where the meat you eat was raised. American consumers overwhelmingly support these labels. Our surveys have consistently shown that more than 90 percent of consumers would prefer to have a country-of-origin label on the meat they buy. (Tell us what you think by adding a comment at the bottom of this article.)

Read about Consumer Reports' work on chicken and shrimp safety, and get more information in our Food Safety & Sustainability Guide.

But legislation moving right now in Congress would repeal country-of-origin labeling and take away this important consumer resource. ​The bill (H.R. 2393) comes in the wake of a World Trade Organization ruling against the American rules for COOL, saying the labeling ​put Mexican and Canadian meat imports at an unfair disadvantage. But the proposed repeal goes even further than the WTO case, repealing country-of-origin labeling for products that were not even covered by the case, including chicken and ground beef.

We don’t think that Congress should be intimidated by other countries’ efforts to water down our labeling standards and repeal country-of-origin labeling. This week, Consumers Union sent a letter to the House of Representatives cautioning them from doing away with the labeling standards and, rather, urging the U.S. to negotiate a settlement with Mexico and Canada.

We were disappointed that the legislation passed the House, but Consumers Union will continue to fight any repeal of these vital labeling laws. The legislation now moves to the Senate for consideration. In 2013, Consumers Union backed a letter by a bipartisan group of 31 senators— 28 of whom are still in office—to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk in support of strong COOL rules that put Americans first. Despite this support for COOL in the upper chamber, it’s as important as ever that Congress hears from consumers.

Join us, make your voice heard, and let your lawmakers know you oppose the repeal of country-of-origin labeling.

This feature is part of a regular series by Consumers Union, the policy and advocacy arm of Consumer Reports. The nonprofit organization advocates for product safety, financial reform, safer food, health reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.

Read past installments of our Policy & Action feature.

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