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Wednesday AM March 18th, 2009

Consumers now have more information about their food. Labels on most fresh meats and some fruits and vegetables now must list where the food originated. Ed Mayberry reports.

image of country labeling on food productsCongress enacted the Country of Origin Labeling program as part of a wide-ranging farm bill last year. Martin O’Connor is with the Department of Agriculture.

“Covered areas would be beef and ground beef, muscle cuts of lamb, muscle cuts of pork, and ground of each of those items as well, then of course the fish and shell fish, peanuts, chicken, goat, pecans and macadamia nuts and ginseng.”

O’Connor calls it a “consumer right-to-know” program.

“In the legislation, it talks about where that animal was born, raised and slaughtered, so all that information has to be contained in the information that’s provided to the consumer for their purchase decision. So if the animal was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States, it would have a simple statement on there — ‘product of the USA’.”

In the case of fruit and veg, the labels don’t actually have to be on the food itself.

“Could be on a placard or a label or even a band, a pin tag or a sticker, a twist-tag or, you know, a sign over a bin of product itself, or in the, you know, in each individual fruit or vegetable that would have a stick-on label.”

The USDA has been evaluating the practicality of the labeling practices.

“Most of the requirements are very broad in their interpretation so that the retailer can make that declaration in a variety of ways — as long as it’s truthful, accurate and not misleading — and then they would have the documentation to back that up.”

The policy is popular with ranchers in the northern part of the United States who compete with Canadian cattle producers.

Ed Mayberry, KUHF Houston Public Radio News.

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