USDA Requirements for Implementing Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling

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Simply put, mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) requires specified food retailers to inform their customers of the country of origin of covered commodities. The Federal requirements for mandatory COOL stem from the 2002 Farm Bill, which amended the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 to add COOL provisions. Among other requirements, the 2002 Farm Bill directed USDA to issue guidelines for voluntary COOL by Sept. 30, 2002. During the time that they were available, no retailers adopted the voluntary guidelines to provide COOL information to their customers. Regulations to implement mandatory COOL were to be promulgated by Sept. 30, 2004, and the requirements were to apply to the retail sale of a covered commodity by that date. The law subsequently has undergone a number of changes since it was first enacted. First, the 2002 Supplemental Appropriations Act amended the COOL provisions by further defining the country of origin for wild fish. The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2004 then delayed the applicability of mandatory COOL until Sept. 30, 2006 for covered commodities except for farm–raised fish and wild fish, for which the effective date of Sept. 30, 2004 remained unchanged. The Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2006 further delayed the applicability of mandatory COOL until Sept. 30, 2008 for those covered commodities. Finally, the 2008 Farm Bill contained a number of provisions that amended the COOL provisions of the Act.

Warren P. Preston
Soo Kim
Choices magazine, a publication of the Agricultural & Applied Economics Association