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Farmers Union Presses Congress on COOL

Country of origin labeling looks to be a hot topic in this Congress.

One of the hottest issues in the 110th Congress may be COOL.

It was originally passed - after great debate - in 2002. But almost none of it was ever actually implemented.

The National Farmers Union fought hard for "country-of-origin labeling" the first time around, only to see the law lose its teeth. Now NFU, along with a group of national organizations, including the Association of Family Farms and the Consumer Federation of America, are calling for full implementation of a mandatory COOL this time around.

The law is supposed to require retailers to notify consumers of the country-of-origin of beef, pork, lamb, produce, peanuts and seafood.

But of all of that, NFU Chairman Tom Buis says COOL finally was implemented only on seafood. Buis says that was the result of a series of backroom deals and riders added to "must pass legislation" that prevented USDA from actually doing its job.

Buis says COOL is good because it will spotlight American-produced products.

"Country-of-origin labeling is an essential tool for U.S. consumers and food producers alike," Buis says. "This is the only mechanism to differentiate high quality U.S.-produced food."

In a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking members of the U.S. House and Senate Agriculture and Appropriations Committees, the coalition says the time has come for Congress to provide USDA with implementation funds, and require the department to immediately prepare a common-sense rule for implementing mandatory COOL.

"American consumers and producers have, time and again, expressed their strong support for this program," Buis says. "In fact, 80 percent of U.S. consumers want to know where their food comes from. We hope the new Congress will act with deliberate speed on this important matter."

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