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USDA Administrator Talks COOL

Lloyd Day spent the day at Husker Harvest Days talking to producers about the new program.

Built into the 2002 Farm Bill was country of origin labeling. The program, long on hold, goes into effect on October 1, with new rules that include changes that came with the latest farm bill.

During Husker Harvest Days this week Lloyd Day, administrator, USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, talked about the new program. During a special edition of Market Journal, Day talked about the program with University of Nebraska Extension experts and Michael Kelsey, executive vice president, Nebraska Cattlemen's Association.

The interim rules have been published and final rules go into effect on October 1. "There will be a six-month [grace] period as the program goes into effect," Day says. During that time cow-calf producers, packers and retailers can get their programs together.

COOL, which has been coming for sometime, is finally upon the market. And any new program brings added costs. Kelsey, notes that those costs will be absorbed by the system, and probably at the lowest point - the cow-calf producer. "The cow-calf producer could bear the brunt of the costs," he says. "It's a fear for our members. Just who will bear the burden?"

Whether that will happen remains to be seen, but smaller producers will find a greater need to have records or proof of where their cattle come from. A source- and age-verified program, perhaps as part of the beef export verification program, would suffice. Or participation in the National Animal Identification System would also work.

Day notes, that simple affidavits verifying where cattle came from are also accepted as part of the system. How that unfolds depends on the results of future audits USDA-AMS undertakes to verify data.

Consumers are the big question mark for COOL. Some groups claim the labeling will increase demand for U.S. beef. Others say the consumer doesn't care. Labels can range from "Product of the United States" to "Product of the United States/Canada/Mexico" depending on how a packer sources product. What the consumer will do with such information remains to be seen.

Enforcement and verification remains the question and a consumer group could - after the grace period - sue to verify COOL information. Day admitted that demand - whether in a lawsuit or some other form - could come as soon as October 1.

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