Magazine article USA TODAY , Vol. 132, No. 2699
At a time of rising concern over food security, public demand is growing for information about where food originates. "There's nothing new about food imports, but there is a lot of interest by a lot of people about where the food they consume comes from," notes John VanSickle, a University of Florida, Gainesville, agricultural economist who believes new country-of-origin labeling will benefit consumers and producers.
"Congress last year passed a law requiring that by September, 2004, all fruits and vegetables, beef, lamb, pork, and fish sold in the United States include a label showing where the food originated," he says. "But some retailers and processors would prefer that consumers didn't know, and they are reluctant to support" the legislation.
VanSickle, a professor with the university's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, is the lead author of a study by five universities that shows country-of-origin labeling--often referred to as COOL--would have significant benefits. He points out that U.S. consumers eat about 236,000,000,000 pounds of the commodities annually, or about 842 pounds per person.
The actual cost of record-keeping for the new labeling would be less than one-tenth of a cent per pound, according to VanSickle. "Consumers will be more confident about food products when they know where they come from. Labeling allows them to identify U.S. products and support those producers in the marketplace." For example, knowing that domestically produced fruits and vegetables meet high quality and safety standards is reassuring to consumers. Imports from some foreign countries may not be produced under the same standards U.S. producers must follow, particularly when it comes to pesticide residues and other safety issues.
"For consumers in today's global marketplace, the trend is clearly toward more information--not less," VanSickle points out. "Consumers have demonstrated a desire to know, and they support labeling." Moreover, labeling reduces the risk and cost of food-safety problems by providing information that would make food recall efforts easier to track and identify. …