Meat processors, along with food retailers and wholesalers in the US, have agreed to draw up a programme to provide consumers country of origin information. The group believes this will prove cheaper and more workable than the proposed mandatory bill.
The group, which includes the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association (UFFVA), National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) and National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), say they are committed to developing a cost- effective replacement to the programme mandated in the 2002 farm bill. Many groups, such as the National Pork Producers Council (NPPC), claim that the proposed regulations would be burdensome and would not ensure a safer food supply.
"While NPPC continues to oppose mandatory country-of-origin labelling, the two-year time out period should give all parties ample time to create a voluntary, market-driven framework," said president Jon Caspers.
Indeed, within the meat processing industry, there is widespread agreement that the mandatory programme is too costly and unworkable. NCBA president Eric Davis said: "The mandatory labelling law was never designed to promote food safety. We have other laws for that purpose, and we are now working with the government to strengthen those measures and make sure that the American consumer can continue to buy the safest beef in the world."
"We all agree the goal is to give consumers useful information about where their food comes from," said UFFVA president Tom Stenzel. "What is needed is an industry-driven framework for providing country of origin information that is market-driven and does not increase the cost of food by imposing needless bureaucratic requirements.
"A solution must be reached now before it adds further costs to produce grower-shippers and harms consumers through disrupting the distribution and marketing of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables."
The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that in the first year alone the mandatory law will cost up to $3.9 billion - costs that will be passed along to consumers or absorbed by producers and retailers in the low-profit food business, according to the industry groups.
"We do not need to create a bureaucratic nightmare that will drive small retailers and producers out of business," said FMI president Tim Hammonds. "Food retailers have long promoted US brands and their region, state or farm of origin. This initiative can build on these efforts and accomplish the same goal as the mandatory labelling law without the baggage of excessive compliance costs."
Not everyone in the food industry is in agreement however. In December, a coalition of 165 US food manufacturers and associations sent a letter to President Bush arguing that any delay of the mandatory country-of-origin labelling law is not supported by the overwhelming majority of US food manufacturers.
The coalition, called Americans for Country of Origin Labeling (ACOL), has urged the President to oppose Congressional efforts to delay country-of-origin labelling.