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New Food Labels Coming to a Store Near You.

New labels that consumers will see attached to meat, produce and peanuts beginning next fall could shed light on something many food producers would rather leave in the dark -- the national origin of the food Americans buy, reports The Detroit News.

A federal mandate now working its way through the regulation process requires all beef, lamb, pork, produce and peanuts to be labeled with what country the products were grown or produced in, starting in September 2008. Among the countries supplying Americans with meat are Uruguay, New Zealand and Mexico.

Such labeling has been required on seafood since September 2006. Poultry products are exempt from the labeling rule.

Originally proposed as part of the 2002 Farm Bill but killed by Congress before being revived last year, the requirement has sparked a heated debate between consumer groups and food safety advocates who support the measure, and grocers and food producers who don't.

Consumer advocates say the labels will give grocery shoppers yet another piece of information to help them make food-buying decisions, especially in the wake of a summer full of foreign product recalls, including some foods.

"Consumers care about where their food is coming from and how it's produced," said Joseph Mendelson, legal director of the Center for Food Safety. "It creates at least a sense that companies are tracking where the food is coming from. You can't get that now."

On the other side, a host of business interests -- from the cattle-raising farmers to the grocers selling steak -- say the law will confuse shoppers and force food producers to keep unnecessarily detailed records, which will cost consumers millions.

They say it could also significantly increase the cost of U.S.-produced meat, because it could no longer come from the cheaper cattle that meat producers often buy from abroad and bring to the United States to raise and slaughter. Instead, more expensive U.S.-born cattle will have to be used to get a "Made in America" label.

"The requirement is simply too restrictive and demanding, especially given today's globalized economy," said Jeremy Russell, spokesman for the National Meat Association, one of the groups fighting the labeling rule. "Meat producers have enough adequate safety checks in place for consumers without this regulation."

Consumers don't necessarily agree, especially in the wake of numerous food safety alerts this year, including one involving five types of seafood from China. A Consumer Reports poll released in July showed 92 percent of Americans support labels revealing where their food comes from.

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Publication:Gourmet Retailer
Date:Sep 18, 2007
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