COOL goes into law

March 19, 2009

Shoppers will have more information about where their food comes from under COOL (country of origin labeling), a new policy which started this week, reports MSNBC. Labels on most fresh meats (muscle cuts and ground beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork); wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; perishable agricultural commodities (specifically fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables); macadamia nuts; pecans; ginseng and peanuts, now list where the food originated. In the case of meats, some labels will list where the animal was born, raised and slaughtered.

Food safety groups have long lobbied for the policy, written by the Bush administration and enacted by Congress as part of a wide-ranging farm bill last year. It's also popular with ranchers in the northern part of the U.S who compete with Canadian cattle producers.

But confusion is likely to linger as consumers and experts struggle to understand exactly what is covered under the regulations — and what isn't. The regulations were first enacted in September, with a six-month window for manufacturers and suppliers to come into compliance. Regulations exclude a variety of foods that fall under the labeling requirement, but are considered to be processed, such as roasted peanuts, breaded chicken and bacon. The processing exemption also means that certain mixed foods, such as bagged lettuce that includes more than one variety, or frozen peas and carrots, don't have to be labeled. Commodities are excluded from mandatory COOL if the commodity is an ingredient in a processed food item. The definition of a processed food item excludes food that has undergone a physical or chemical change — such as cooking, curing or smoking — or that has been combined with other foods.

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