Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Country of Origin Labels Start Today

Don't forget that you should be seeing Country of Origin labels on your food today.

Here are some questions and answers about the new laws and no you still are not going to find out what is in SPAM.

What does the new law require?

That 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.

Where will I see the labeling?

Anywhere it fits. The rubber band around asparagus; the plastic wrap on ground beef; the little sticker that says "Gala" on an apple. If a food isn't normally sold in packaging -- such as a bin of fresh green beans or mushrooms -- the store must post a sign.

Aren't many foods already labeled?

Some fresh produce already uses origin labeling as advertising. "Fresh from Florida" or "Jersey Grown" or "Vidalia Onion" tags don't have to be changed under the new rules; the shopper should realize they're all U.S. products.

What's the biggest exception?

The labels aren't for processed foods, meaning no label if the food is cooked, an ingredient in a bigger dish or otherwise substantially changed. So plain raw chicken must be labeled but not breaded chicken tenders. Raw pork chops are labeled, but not ham or bacon. Fresh or frozen peas get labeled, but not canned peas. Raw shelled pecans, but not trail mix.

What if the foods are merely mixed together?

They're exempt too. So cantaloupe slices from Guatemala are labeled. Mix in some Florida watermelon chunks, and no label. Frozen peas and carrots, no label.

As for bagged salads, the U.S. Agriculture Department considers iceberg and romaine to be just lettuce, so that bag gets a label. Add some radicchio? No label.

Must all stores comply?

No. Meat and seafood sold in butcher shops and fish markets are exempt.

What if companies buy food from various places -- beef from both U.S. and Mexican ranchers, for instance?

That's a bone of contention between large U.S. meat producers and smaller ranchers that produce exclusively U.S. animals. Tyson Fresh Meats, for instance, says it's too expensive to separate which of its cattle came from which country. So in a July letter to customers, Tyson said it would label all beef "Product of the U.S., Canada or Mexico." The National Farmers Union is protesting; the USDA is considering the complaints.

Aren't country labels on some processed foods?

Yes, tariff regulations have long required that a food put into consumer-ready packaging abroad be labeled as an import; that doesn't apply to bulk ingredients.

When does the change take effect?

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

1 comment:

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