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Appeal to Bush: Commodity groups protest COOL delay

Over 100 commodity organizations ranging from the Cape Cod Cranberry Growers' Association to the Southern Shrimp Alliance are pleading with President George W. Bush to support the Country of Origin Labeling Law for meat, produce and peanuts.

“The two-year delay for COOL agreed to by the White House, Senate and House leadership is an unacceptable ploy designed to kill COOL under the guise of more study,” says Fred Stokes, Porterville, Miss., cattle producer and president of the Lincoln, Neb.-based Organization for Competitive Markets.

Among the 165 groups also signing off on the letter are the American Corn Growers Association; the Arkansas Farmers Union; California-based Calaveras County Cattlemen's Association; Farm Aid; the Federation of Southern Cooperatives; the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association; Georgia Livestock Markets Association; Independent Cattlemen's Association of Texas; Kemper County Farm Bureau in Mississippi; Missouri Rural Crisis Center; the National Campaign for Sustainable Agriculture; the National Farmers Union; Sierra Club National Agriculture Committee; Soybean Producers of America; and Women Involved in Farm Economics.

In the Dec. 3 letter to Bush, the farm-related groups take Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to task for implying that Congress is blocking implementation of the labeling law at the behest of farm groups. The groups Veneman cited, however, represent a “small fraction of the 2 million producers impacted by the law,” the letter says.

“As representatives of the majority of individuals affected by this law, we want to make you aware that the overwhelming majority of farmers, ranchers and consumers support this law,” the letter states. “A coalition of over 130 agriculture and consumer groups has repeatedly voiced its support to Congress in favor of the COOL law you signed into effect in 2002. This broad coalition represents over 50 million Americans.”

“While the department and many in your administration have been quick to criticize the law, they have yet to offer any constructive advice on how to make this law workable and fair to all affected parties. Worse yet, the administration has unfortunately sent signals that it is open to a repeal of the law,” the letter to Bush says.

Commodity organizations sending the letter say country-of-origin labeling is a marketing tool American producers need to promote the superiority of their products and differentiate them from commodities produced in other countries. “We find it ironic that over 40 of our trading partners have country-of-origin labeling programs, yet with all of our resources and technology, the U.S. cannot determine a method of implementation that provides our consumers with the same information.

“Without this program in place, we are putting at risk two of our three largest beef export markets, Japan and Korea. The law was written in a fashion to provide the secretary substantial flexibility to implement the program in a producer and consumer friendly fashion,” the groups say.

The letter asks Bush to “rectify the gross error” Congress is making by attempting to undermine the labeling law within the 2004 appropriations bill. “Congress must be encouraged to defend the country-of-origin labeling law on behalf of U.S. producers and consumers,” the farm groups say.

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