A new food-labeling law that went into effect on Sept. 30 requires food manufacturers to inform consumers which country their meat and produce comes from. This country-of-origin labeling law is also known as COOL.
Foods covered by the law include beef, pork, chicken, lamb, goat and fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables. Nuts covered under the law include peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts. Fish and shellfish have carried the labels since 2005.
The country of origin can be identified on the actual package, such as the meat label that shows weight and price. It can be a sticker on the package or on the actual fruit or vegetable. In other cases, such as with fresh fruit, the country of origin can be on a sign with the fruit.
The law was initially proposed by U.S. farmers and ranchers who thought people would prefer to buy meat produced in the United States. Many consumers support the law because of food borne illness outbreaks, such as the salmonella-tainted produce earlier this year. Other consumers want the freshest produce possible and feel the new labeling law will help them choose accordingly.
COOL labeling only applies to retail establishments that sell $230,000 worth of fresh and frozen produce a year. Many butcher shops, fish markets and small retail outlets, therefore are exempt from the law.
Processed and cooked foods are also exempt from the law. A food is considered “processed” if it is combined with just one other ingredient.
An example often used is peas and carrots: If you buy frozen peas, the country of origin must be listed. If you buy frozen carrots, the country of origin must be listed. But if you buy a package of frozen carrots and peas, the country of origin is not required because it is considered to be a processed food. Breaded chicken, chocolate-covered strawberries, roasted peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts are also considered processed.
You may not see county of origin on food packages immediately. The law applies only to food produced after September 30, 2008.