Farmers Union Opposes Voluntary Food Labeling

June 15, 2004

Great Falls, MT -- Montana Farmers Union says legislation introduced today will essentially kill a law passed in 2002 that would require grocery stores to label certain food with their country of origin.

U.S. Reps. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., and Charles Stenholm, D-Texas, introduced legislation to repeal the mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provision passed as part of the 2002 farm bill and, instead, maintain a voluntary system.

"Voluntary country-of-origin food labeling is not COOL," said Brooks Dailey, president of Montana Farmers Union. "Voluntary country-of-origin labeling has been available for years, but packers, processors and retailers have refused to participate. Opponents of COOL are enjoying profits from importing less expensive food products from other countries. They fear U.S. consumers would prefer to buy U.S.-origin food, and their fears are accurate."

In January, National Farmers Union released the results of a national survey that shows 82 percent of consumers want country-of-origin information on their food and 85 percent would be more inclined to buy food produced in the United States.

"Unfortunately, without mandatory labeling, consumers have no way to distinguish U.S. quality products from imported products," said Dailey. According to the U.S. government, 11 percent of all food products consumed in the United States are imported. Dailey said this trend continues to grow, yet U.S. producers continue to be denied the opportunity to differentiate their products to the final consumer. 

The Montana Farmers Union supports legislation that provides more constructive solutions to the concerns surrounding COOL such as: the Country-of-Origin Labeling Amendment Act of 2003 (HR 3083) introduced by Reps. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., and Collin Peterson, D-Minn.; the Country-of-Origin Labeling Enhancement Act of 2004 (HR 3993) by Reps. Mary Bono, R-Calif., and Darlene Hooley, D-Ore.; and legislation introduced in the Senate by Sen. Tom Daschle, D-S.D., to repeal the two-year delay of mandatory COOL included in the omnibus spending bill.

"We commend Montana's Congressional delegation for its support of mandatory country-of-origin labeling," said Dailey, "and we support Congressman Rehberg in a vigorous debate on this move to undermine what Montana producers and consumers alike want, which is to have their food labeled as to its origin."