August 8, 2008
August 8, 2008 - Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) takes affect in the United States on Sept. 30, 2008. The following guidance for producers has been provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service.
Livestock producers are not directly regulated by the COOL interim final rule as livestock are not considered covered commodities. Covered commodities in the livestock arena include muscle cuts and ground beef (including veal), lamb, chicken, goat and pork.
However, it is only producers who have first-hand knowledge concerning the origin of their animals. Definitive origin information must be provided to slaughter facilities so that meat covered commodities can be accurately labeled at retail. Presumption of origin by packers and other entities in the marketing chain is not permitted. For example, it is not acceptable to assume that if an animal has no ear tag and/or brands identifying that the animal was born and/or raised in Canada or Mexico, the animal is of U.S. origin.
Under the interim final rule, USDA will consider a producer affidavit as acceptable evidence on which a packer may rely upon to initiate an origin claim, as long as the affidavit is made by someone having first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animals and identifies the animals unique to the transaction. Evidence that identifies the animals unique to a transaction can include a tag ID system along with other information such as the type and sex of the animal, number of head involved in the transaction, the date of the transaction and the name of the buyer.
With regard to what is considered first-hand knowledge, a subsequent producer-buyer (e.g., feeder) that commingles animals from several sources is authorized to rely on previous producer affidavits as a basis for formulating their own affidavit for the origin of the new lot. Such affidavits must also identify the animals unique to the transaction.
Documents and records that may be useful to verify compliance with COOL include but are not limited to birth records, receiving records, purchase records, animal health papers, sales receipts, animal inventory documents, feeding records and breeding stock information.
According to the rule, producers that participate in the National Animal Identification System (NAIS) can consider this sufficient documentation for an animal's origin. Participation in the NAIS program is voluntary but does provide a livestock producer "safe harbor" for COOL compliance.
"Ultimately, the slaughter companies are responsible for determining the origin of the product being labeled," stated Peter Orwick, executive director of the American Sheep Industry Association. "Because producers are the ones that have first-hand knowledge of the animal's origin, it may be necessary to provide records to processors to verify this."
ASI will be meeting with other livestock and agriculture groups as well as the meat industry this month to develop comments to be submitted in September.
The American Meat Institute has launched a COOL Web site, www.countryoforiginlabel.org
, to assist in answering labeling questions. Staff contact: Peter Orwick, ext. 33