The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Thursday published the final regulation for the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) program required by the 2002 and 2008 Farm Bills. The full text has been published in the Jan. 15, 2009, Federal Register. The rule becomes effective on March 16, 2009, 60 days after the date of publication.
The rule covers muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts.
Commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail to indicate its country of origin. In the final rule, the definition of lamb has been modified to allow for the regulation of mutton.
"Because of the requests the American Sheep Industry Association (ASI) received from producers, ASI asked USDA to expand the coverage of labeling to include mutton," commented Peter Orwick, ASI executive director. "While mutton does not carry a large share of the market, there were several producers who felt that this coverage was important."
The final rule outlines the requirements for labeling covered commodities and the recordkeeping requirements for retailers and suppliers. The law provides for penalties of up to $1,000 per violation for both retailers and suppliers not complying with the law.
The rule prescribes specific criteria that must be met for a covered commodity to bear a "United States country of origin" declaration. In addition, the rule also contains provisions for labeling covered commodities of foreign origin, meat products from multiple origins, ground meat products, as well as commingled covered commodities.
USDA plans to make funding available to accelerate and expand training of state cooperator employees, initiate development of an automated review tracking system, conduct a retailer survey, conduct audits of the retail supply chain and continue conducting education and outreach activities.
Copies of the final rule and additional information are on display on line at http://www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.