USDA Relaxes Country of Origin Labeling Rules

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is exercising enforcement discretion for a temporary period to provide flexibilities to the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requirements. USDA is allowing the redistribution of food products intended for food-service markets to be sold in retail establishments.

COOL is a labeling law that requires retailers to notify their customers with information regarding where certain foods originated. Covered commodities include fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables among other food products. Ordinarily, commodities subject to COOL requirements are not required to include a country of origin or method of production label when distributed to food service, but the labels are required when these foods are sold at retail establishments.

To facilitate the distribution of food to retail establishments from suppliers that have inventory on hand that is labeled for use in restaurants, effective April 20, and for a period of 60 days, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) will not take enforcement action against the retail sale of commodities that lack an appropriate country of origin or method of production label, provided that the food does not make any country of origin or method of production claims. Once the 60-day period has ended, COOL designations will once again be required at covered retail establishments.

By allowing this labeling flexibility during the COVID-19 crisis, food can be diverted from restaurants to retail.

The Georgia Agribusiness Council expressed concerns with the easing of these requirements to USDA and Congress: “While we understand the need for the food service industry to move available food products into retail stores that are seeing better demand, we cautioned that the COOL regulations be reinstated as quickly as possible and the transitions should be tightly monitored to ensure that foreign products are not dumped on the American market during this window. With Georgia fresh fruits and vegetables beginning to hit their peak production times, we must protect our farms and agribusinesses against more devastating floods of inferior foreign products.”

For more information on enforcement of COOL, visit the AMS website at https://www.ams.usda.gov/rules-regulations/cool.

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About the Author
Tacy Callies

Tacy Callies

Editor of Citrus Industry magazine

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