Labeling rules are operationally impractical, says NFPA
Jun 1, 2004 12:00 PM
In testimony delivered to a recent United States House of Representatives Subcommittee hearing, the National Food Processors Association (NFPA) urged that substantial changes be made to new country-of-origin labeling requirements by the US Department of Agriculture (USDA).
“The approach that USDA has taken to country-of-origin labeling would be unnecessarily burdensome and operationally impractical for both food processors and retailers,” said Kurt Buckman, director of quality systems management for Birds Eye Foods, who testified on behalf of NFPA. “USDA's guidelines would overregulate by prescribing country-of-origin labeling for products already required to display such labeling, creating the prospect of duplicative, confusing, and even conflicting requirements.”
NFPA was invited to testify at a hearing held by the House Agriculture Committee's Subcommittee on Livestock and Horticulture on Country of Origin Labeling Requirements under the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 (commonly referred to as the Farm Bill).
Among specific concerns NFPA highlighted were:
The food industry has an ongoing requirement for country-of-origin labeling that predates the Farm Bill. “Products of foreign origin, as determined under US tariff laws, already are subject to country-of-origin labeling under a comprehensive set of regulations administered by the Customs Bureau,” said Buckman.
The US voluntary program covers food categories that are clearly processed foods. in his testimony, Buckman said, “USDA's guidance, given the statutory definitions used to identify covered commodities, conflicts with the explicit exclusion for processed food ingredients in the Farm Bill.”
The Customs Bureau “has jurisdiction over the country-of-origin marking requirements for imported products at port of entry as well as the labeling of packaged products offered for sale in the United States and containing imported ingredients, including those repackaged in the United States,” Buckman testified. “The requirements established by the Farm Bill raise problems for food processors in determining what labeling requirements apply to specific products.”
“The labeling requirements under the Farm Bill are extremely complicated and technologically difficult to achieve,” Buckman said. “Because percentages of components vary among bags, order of predominance by weight rules for country-of-origin marking will cause frequent and costly label changes or extraordinary spending on sophisticated marking equipment — while providing minimal benefit to consumers.”
Buckman said, “The food industry is currently faced with complying with the Farm Bill country-of-origin labeling requirements on Sept 30, 2004. As of today, we have neither final guidance nor regulations. Covered foods offered for retail sale come Sept 30, 2004, will not all have been packaged under industry programs to satisfy the USDA country-of-origin labeling requirements.”
In conclusion, he said, “The current requirements established by the Farm Bill and USDA's guidance are seriously flawed. Another look at these requirements is needed to exempt all processed foods, which already are covered by Customs Bureau regulations. USDA's voluntary country-of-origin program should not become mandatory without significant and substantial change.”
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