E-mail this article to
yourself or a friend.
Enter address:


Sen. Tim Johnson to USDA - "I expect the program [COOL] to be implemented as signed into law.'

(Monday, Feb. 17, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- Sen. Tim Johnson wrote the following letter to the USDA regardings its implementatoin of the Country of Origin Labeling program included in the 2002 farm bill.

January 16, 2002

Country of Origin Labeling Program
Agricultural Marketing Service
William Sessions, Associate Deputy Administrator
Eric Forman, Associate Deputy Administrator
USDA STOP 0249, Room 2092-S
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-0249

Office of Management and Budget
New Executive Office Building
725 17th Street, NW, Room 725
Washington, D.C. 20503

Clearance Officer
USDA-OCIO, Room 404-W
Jamie L. Whitten Building, STOP 7602
1400 Independence Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20250-7602

RE: Docket Number LS-02-6

Dear Associate Deputy Administrators Sessions and Forman:

This letter is in response to your request for comments on record keeping requirements and the accuracy of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) cost estimates regarding implementation of retail level country-of-origin labeling. As the author of the labeling provision enacted as part of the 2002 farm bill, I feel compelled to address this matter. I also appreciate the opportunity to provide comments to the proposed rule submitted to the Federal Register by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS).

Simply put, I am concerned with your proposed rule regarding record keeping and costs. I will not stand to allow USDA or others to weaken country-of-origin labeling during this rule making process.

After reviewing AMS estimates pertaining to the cost of implementing a labeling program, I am disappointed that USDA chose to issue "worst-case scenario" costs which unnecessarily exaggerate the true costs associated with this program. The nearly $2 billion estimated total cost for implementation is outrageous and USDA’s cost analysis is breathtakingly similar to meatpacking industry estimates of the cost of labeling. While USDA joined packers to oppose labeling during consideration of the farm bill, I had hoped once labeling was enacted, USDA leadership would withdraw their opposition in order to carry out the intent of the law.

There is no evidence that consumers are unwilling to pay modestly more for meat and other food in return for the ability to choose these items with confidence and knowledge of their origins. Yet, I am concerned that USDA chose only to estimate the costs associated with country-of-origin labeling but not any benefits that may accrue to consumers or others as a result of the program. I am confident the benefits of labeling will outweigh USDA’s cost estimate. Even if USDA’s cost estimate is remotely accurate, the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM), an agricultural think tank of producers and market experts, has determined that the benefits of labeling outweigh the costs by approximately thirteen cents per week for consumers. Based on U.S. population totals, OCM has estimated the total annual cost per consumer for labeling is $6.91 or 13 cents per week. OCM has also indicated that USDA could reduce the costs associated with labeling if record keeping regulations traced only foreign products, while allowing domestic products to bear a United States label. I believe this idea has merit and warrants further study by USDA.

With respect to record keeping requirements under voluntary or mandatory labeling, it was not the intent of Congress to place the total responsibility of record keeping on the producer of commodities. Yet, USDA estimates that every one of the 2 million farmers, ranchers, and fishermen in the U.S. will be forced to implement a record keeping system, which arbitrarily increases the estimated cost. This assumption is clearly indefensible because every agricultural producer in the U.S. does not produce a commodity which will be required to be labeled under the farm bill provision.

Instead, the law provides the Secretary with the authority to require verifiable record keeping, as well as a requirement that anyone engaged in supplying a covered commodity to a retailer must provide information indicating the origin of the covered commodity. For the retailer to know the country-of-origin of a covered commodity, and for the Secretary to enforce this section, all participants and businesses affected by the provision should cooperate to develop this verifiable record keeping audit trail.

Concerning meat labeling, it is not necessary to impose a mandatory animal identification program in order to implement country-of-origin labeling because proven models already exist within USDA to verify the origin or birth of animals for various purposes. One such model is the quality grade certification system that signifies the quality grade of certain meat cuts (such as USDA 'choice,' 'prime,' or 'select'). USDA stated in a report (The Benefits/Cost Analysis of Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling) released in 2000 that AMS and industry could model this certification program to implement country-of-origin meat labeling. Also, USDA implements a number of other programs that require an affidavit to verify origin that does not put the burden of proof on a producer.

It is my understanding that many livestock auction markets in the U.S. have requested individuals selling cattle or other ruminants to sign affidavits verifying that the livestock were not fed mammalian parts, so as to ensure buyers that the livestock will not contract Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease). The Secretary is encouraged to determine if this system of tracking animals for prevention of the spread of BSE may work similarly for keeping records for country-of-origin.

The labeling program was not passed into law in an effort to reinvent record keeping. As I have indicated before, there are many existing and verifiable record keeping models that USDA could employ to successfully implement a labeling program. I strongly encourage USDA to closely review these models and return to the American public a defensible and logical reassessment of potential record keeping burdens and cost estimates.

I have been working on this legislation for the past ten years and will simply not allow USDA to compromise any part of it during the implementation period. The language and intent of this program was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bush, I expect the program to be implemented as signed into law.

Thank you for your attention to this most important matter.


Tim Johnson
United States Senate