Tuesday, Sept. 30 marked not only the end of the public comment period on Country of Origin Labeling, but also the implementation of the program under the interim final rule. Undersecretary of Agriculture Bruce Knight says USDA will be working with retailers to enact the legislation originally passed in the 2002 Farm Bill that requires the labeling of meat with its country of origin.
"We will be moving forward very aggressively over the next six months to fully implement these provisions in a manner that will best meet the needs of the consumer," Knight says. "This is a marketing program and as a marketing program our intent is to have a label so that a consumer on purchase of produce or meat products can best tell the country of origin."
USDA has been accepting comments from the public on the final interim rule on implementation of COOL for the past 60 days and has received a sizable response in the neighborhood of 175 to 200 comments.
"It's a significant number of comments but a very manageable workload," Knight says. "This indicates that we should be able to stay on our current schedule of an intention to go to a final rule before the end of this calendar year. In doing so we should be able to take into factor any of the comments and any of the experiences we will have in the first several months of implementation and be able to utilize that before we move to a final rule at the end of this year."
While COOL has taken affect, USDA will not begin enforcement of the provision for the first six months to make sure that everyone can come into compliance as quickly as possible.
"As we have moved forward and as we continue to move forward on implementation Country of Origin Labeling, we are making every attempt to make each and every decision as common sense and as transparent as we possibly can," Knight says.