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US Food Stores Must Identify More Foods by Country

Fresh fruits and vegetables and some meats are among the products that must now be labeled by origin. But the new rules exclude many foods. Transcript of radio broadcast:

This is the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

New rules will let millions of Americans know where more of their food came from. The law is known as COOL -- Country of Origin Labeling.

Congress first passed the law in two thousand two. Stores have had to label seafood by country of origin since two thousand five. But industry pressure delayed other requirements until last week.

Products that must now be labeled include fresh fruits and vegetables, muscle meats and some kinds of nuts. But the rules are complex, and many foods are excluded. For example, organ meats are excluded. So are processed foods, including cooked or smoked foods.

The same food may sometimes have to be labeled and other times not. Fresh or frozen peas, for example, have to be labeled but not canned peas. Foods that are mixed with other foods are also excluded.

Mixed nuts, for example, do not need to be labeled. The same is true of a salad mix that contains different things like lettuce and carrots. Or a fruit cup that combines different fruits.

Also, the law excludes restaurants and other food service establishments. Department of Agriculture officials say the law is really meant for larger grocery stores.

The United States has imported more and more food in recent years to save money and expand choices. Country-of-origin labeling has become more common lately but has still been limited in many stores.

Food safety is one reason why some shoppers pay close attention to where foods came from. For example, when a large number of people recently got sick from salmonella, officials blamed peppers from Mexico. Yet the last big food scare involved spinach grown in California.

But labeling is also a way for people to know they are getting what they want. Some want to buy local foods or foods from a particular country.

The country-of-origin labeling law gives establishments thirty days to correct any violations that are found. Stores and suppliers that are found to be willfully violating the law could be fined one thousand dollars per violation. Federal inspectors are not to take action to enforce the law for six months, until April, to give time for an education campaign.

Some food safety activists say they are generally pleased with the law. Chris Waldrop is head of the Food Policy Institute at the Consumer Federation of America. He calls it a good step that will give people more useful information.

And that’s the VOA Special English Agriculture Report, written by Jerilyn Watson. I'm Jim Tedder.