September 24, 2008 

U.S. Department of Agriculture
Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS)
Country of Origin Labeling Program
Room 2607-S; Stop 0254
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-0254

Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0081
RIN 0581-AC26

Interim Final Rule on: Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng, and Macadamia Nuts. 

The American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) is the national trade organization for the United States Sheep industry representing over 70,000 sheep producers through its 45 State affiliates and allied organizations. ASI is pleased to provide comments on this interim final rule. 

ASI believes that this interim final rule, in general and in light of the changes made to the original statute, is an improvement over earlier proposed rules on country of origin labeling and should as such provide for a more acceptable level of compliance and positive benefits over costs to the sheep industry. We encourage AMS to continue to carefully monitor the implementation process at each level of compliance and seek ways to both minimize costs on all sectors and help attain the full benefit of the intent of the enabling legislation. ASI is on record supporting country of origin labeling on sheep products and believe that the benefits provided to our industry and consumers will far outweigh additional costs of compliance if the statute is implemented in a appropriate manner. We offer these comments for the purpose of aiding this process. 

The Interim Final Rule states: "In the case of beef, lamb, chicken, goat, and pork, a producer affidavit shall be considered acceptable evidence on which the slaughter facility may rely to initiate the origin claim, provided it is made by someone having first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animal(s) and identifies the animal(s) unique to the transaction." 

In August and September of 2008, several livestock industry groups worked together to reach agreement on universal language for the documents required to move livestock-origin claims along the ownership chain to ensure that the meat covered by COOL is accurately labeled at retail. The producer affidavit reads: "As an affidavit is deemed by USDA as an official record of Country of Origin, I attest through first-hand knowledge, normal business records or producer affidavit(s) that all livestock referenced by this document or other communications specific to the transaction and transferred are of [Insert Country Name] origin. Should the origin of my livestock become other than that described above, I agree to notify the buyer/agent when this occurs. This affidavit/declaration shall remain in effect until revoked in writing by the undersigned and is delivered to [Insert Buyer/Agent]." It was the intention of the group and urged by ASI, that USDA/AMS accept this affidavit as a valid country of origin claim. We believe that sheep producers will be anxious to verify the origin of their animals through such an affidavit and that the use of this universal language will help simplify the documentation process. 

We note that the wording (and the definition under 65.190) in the list of covered commodities includes "lamb" as a covered meat along with beef, pork, chicken and goat meat. Since there are no common terminology differences describing the meat from different age groups of species such as cattle, swine, etc., we believe that AMS is in error to exclude mutton in their definition of lamb in this rule. While specific definitional differences between lamb and mutton exist for other regulatory purposes, we believe that it is appropriate to cover meat from all ages of sheep in this rule as is done for the other covered species. We urge AMS to amend this definition and notify the affected stakeholders to avoid confusion on labeling sheep meat products. 

ASI developed and registered a trademark for Fresh American Lamb in the year 2000 for use by marketers, through labeling, to differentiate their product from imported and/or frozen sheep meat. The specific criteria describing the product to be labeled with the "Fresh American Lamb" mark states: "The certification mark, as used by persons authorized by the certifier, will certify that the packaged product bearing the certification mark contains fresh or chilled lamb that has been born, grown, slaughtered and processed within the continental United States and that a hot or chilled lamb carcass, as certified at the point of slaughter, meets the official United States Department of Agriculture Standards for Quality and Maturity." (USPTO certification is attached) 

Since this mark is clearly consistent with the labeling requirement of "born, raised and slaughtered in the United States", we urge AMS to allow the use of the Fresh American Lamb trademark as proper evidence that the product packaged under this mark is a product of the United States. 

With regards to ground meat, the interim final rule states: "This interim final provides that when a raw material from a specific origin is not in a processor's inventory for more than 60 days, the country shall no longer be included as a possible country of origin." We understand through consultation with AMS that this provision refers to processors not having to change labels immediately should they temporarily run out of a product from a country listed on their label. However, we find the wording in this section of the rule confusing and potentially misleading. We therefore urge AMS to clarify this issue for the public record. 

USDA/APHIS currently operates the National Scrapie Eradication Program (NSEP), which includes a regulated animal identification program. Also, due to scrapie and other TSE disease regulations, feeder and slaughter sheep are currently being imported into the United States from Canada only (sheep are permitted to be imported from Australia and New Zealand but this is not a current practice). By regulation, feeder and slaughter sheep that are imported from Canada must carry official permanent identification. Recognizing the statement in the interim final rule: "…. under this interim final rule, slaughter facilities that slaughter animals that are part of a National Animal Identification System (NAIS) compliant system or other recognized official identification system (e.g., Canadian official system, Mexico official system) may also rely on the presence of an official ear tag and/or the presence of any accompanying animal markings (i.e., ''Can'', ''M''), as applicable, on which to base their origin claims. This provision also applies to such animals officially identified as a group lot." We urge AMS to help processors and others recognize the relatively straight-forward nature of proving animal origin in the sheep industry. 

Regarding the section titled: "Labeling Muscle Cut Covered Commodities of Multiple Countries of Origin", we believe the guidance in the interim final rule is unclear and could be misleading to retailers and processors therefore compromising compliance. We believe that the language in the statute clearly provides for multiple country of origin labeling whenproduction steps have occurred in more than one country. Therefore, in order to not be in conflict with the requirements for United States country of origin where no production steps have occurred outside the United States or the requirements for labeling imported covered commodities where no production steps occurred within the United States, the only reasonable interpretation of this "Category B" section is where production steps have occurred in more than one country. We therefore urge AMS to clarify this section and provide additional guidance on compliance. 

Burdell Johnson (N.D.)
President
American Sheep Industry Association