Timely Topics

Posted by: Dillon M Feuz on Aug 21, 2008

Mandatory COOL and Considerations for Cattle Producers

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) issued an interim final rule for mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) on July 29, 2008. AMS will accept comments from all interested parties until September 30, 2008. COOL became law in the 2002 Farm Bill but implementation has been delayed twice by Congress. The 2008 Farm Bill (Food, Conservation and Energy Act) made several changes to the COOL law, which have been incorporated into the interim final rule.
Highlights of Mandatory COOL under the interim final rule:
-          Mandatory COOL will take effect September 30, 2008; products produced or packaged before this date are not covered.
-          The act covers the following products sold at retail:
o        Beef, pork, lamb, chicken and goat (whole muscle and ground)
o        Fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables
o        Seafood (wild and farm-raised); previously implemented
o        Peanuts, macadamia nuts, pecans and ginseng
-          Requirement: products must be labeled as to country of origin in an obvious (visible) manner that does not interfere with any other label requirements.
-          Food service is excluded, including deli’s and salad bars in retail stores.
-          Processed foods are excluded.
-          Processed food exclusion is based on two guidelines:
o        Products that are changed in character
§         Cooking, drying, curing, smoking, etc.
o        Products that are combined with other products to make a new product
-          Covered meat products include “All muscle cuts of beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork; and ground beef, ground lamb, ground chicken, ground goat and ground pork.
-          To be labeled “Product of USA”, cattle must be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.
-          Animals imported immediately before slaughter use the label: “Product of country X and the U.S.”
-          Animals imported prior to slaughter use the label: “Product of the U.S., country X and/or country Y.”
-          Products imported directly for retail sale use the label: “Product of country X.”
-          Ground meat products can use a label that states “may contain product of countries X,Y and Z”.
-          Retailers must provide country of origin information to final consumers and must retain records for 1 year.
-          All suppliers of a covered commodity, whether direct or indirect, must provide origin information and maintain records for 1 year.
-          Both retailers and suppliers are subject to fines of $1,000 per violation for willful violation of the act. 
-          Retailers and suppliers are also subject to any other applicable statutes, e.g., food labeling as covered by FDA rules.
-          USDA-AMS will conduct compliance reviews and will initiate investigations and enforcement actions.
Supplier Recordkeeping
          The rule states that “any person engaged in the business of supplying a covered commodity, whether directly or indirectly, must make available information to the subsequent purchaser about the country(ies) of origin” and “must maintain records that establish and identify the immediate previous source and the immediate subsequent recipient of a covered commodity, in such a way that identifies the product unique to that transaction, for a period of 1 year from the date of the transaction”.
Origin claims are to be substantiated with “records maintained in the normal course of business.” Producer affidavits may be used to initiate an origin claim provided they are “made by someone having first-hand knowledge of the origin of the animal(s) and identifies the animal(s) unique to the transaction.”
          It will be up to beef retailers and suppliers (e.g. packers) to indicate what records will satisfy the information they must provide. Cattle are not a “covered commodity” under COOL, but since beef is a covered commodity, cattle producers must supply origin information for all animals whose products are covered. Packers are considered the originators of the country of origin label for the covered commodity and “must possess or have legal access to records that are necessary to substantiate that claim.” Individual animal identification cannot be required by USDA for COOL compliance. However, animals identified in a NAIS compliant or other official identification program may use the ID as verification of origin. Meat from animals that cannot verify origin must be directed into other market channels such as restaurants, institutions, further processed or exports.
In the case of cow-calf producers, records may already exist in many cases but some producers will have to make an extra effort to ensure that each sale of calves is linked to herd records that document origin. Producers can use herd or calving records, feed or vaccine purchases, etc. to document production and origin. Producers will be asked to provide affidavits to purchasers verifying the origin of the animals. A huge challenge for the cow-calf sector is that COOL applies to meat from cows and bulls (if sold at retail). All animals in the U.S. on July 15, 2008 are considered U.S. origin under COOL. It is important for livestock producers, especially cow-calf producers, to document the size and composition of the herd on this date. This initial documentation may be needed for several years until all cows and bulls currently in the herd are sold. Individual calf identification (ear tags) is not required (cannot be required by USDA) and may not be essential for cow-calf producers but may be helpful to link specific calves or sets of calves to the appropriate herd records.
          For stocker producers and feedlots, AMS has indicated that animals from various source groups, but with the same origin, may be commingled and sold in different sales groups without tracking animals to specific source groups as long as the producer has records which verify an overall balance between animal purchases and sales. Depending on the nature of the operation and the manner that animals flow through the operation, producers may find that a more detailed tracking system, possibly including individual animal ID is the most efficient way to document sources and destinations of animals. Producers should request an affidavit for all animals purchased and may use that as the basis to issue affidavits for animals sold. Animals with different origin should be segregated with supporting records unless some sort of individual animal ID system is used to track animals. As noted above, NAIS compliant animals may use the animal ID to verify origin.
Derrell S. Peel
Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist
Oklahoma State University


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