September 30, 2008

COOL Law Lets Consumers Know Where Foods Originate

More controls will be added this week to tell shoppers where many of the food they purchase originated.

In light of China's milk scandal, salmonella issues that stemmed from Mexican peppers, and numerous outbreaks in recent years coming from U.S.-produced foods, the law has been long overdue.

Now, the COOL law (country of origin labeling) will allow shoppers to see where many everyday foods originate.

Those who want to buy local - or who prefer, say, Chilean grapes and New Zealand lamb - can more easily exercise their purchasing power. Those worried about lax safety regulations in certain countries can avoid those imports. And the next time tomatoes are suspected of food poisoning, consumers may be able to tell investigators they bought only ones grown in a certain region, speeding the probe.

"We do see it as an important step on the road to a more comprehensive system for tracing food items" during outbreaks, says Caroline Smith DeWaal of the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Retailers notify customers of the country of origin - including the U.S. - of raw beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and whole ginseng.

"It will be a very good thing because we'll have a lot more information," adds Jean Halloran of Consumers Union. But, "you can still be fooled by the COOL label."

For example, fresh strawberries will be labeled under the COOL law, but chocolate-covered strawberries will not. The same goes for raw peanuts and roasted peanuts.

Also, if certain foods are sold as a mixed product, such as sliced fruit, they will be exempt from the new law.

Some stores will be exempt from COOL. These include Meat and seafood sold in butcher shops and fish markets.

The law goes into effect Tuesday, although USDA won't begin fining laggards until spring. Violations can bring a $1,000 penalty.


On the Net: