The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued an interim final rule for the mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL) program for fish and shellfish September 30, 2004, as required by the 2002 Farm Bill. The 2004 Appropriations Act delayed the applicability of mandatory COOL to the other covered commodities, other than fish and shellfish, until Sept. 30, 2006.
“USDA received over 5,600 comments on the proposed rule for COOL, which have been carefully considered in developing a fair and effective interim final rule,” said Agricultural Marketing Service Administrator A.J. Yates.
Under the interim final rule, fish and shellfish covered commodities must be labeled at retail to indicate their country of origin and method of production (wild and/or farm raised). However, covered commodities are excluded from mandatory COOL if they are an ingredient in a processed food item.
Also, the definition of a processed food item has been revised from the proposed rule. Items derived from a covered commodity that has undergone a change (e.g., cooking, curing, smoking) or that has been combined with other covered commodities or other substantive food components (e.g., breading, tomato sauce) are excluded from COOL labeling.
Food service establishments, such as restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias, food stands, bars, lounges and similar enterprises are exempt from the mandatory COOL requirements.
The interim final rule outlines the requirements for labeling covered commodities. It reduces the recordkeeping retention requirements for suppliers and centrally located retail records to one year and reduces the time during which store level records must be made available to when product is on hand.
The interim final rule will become effective six months from the date of publication. This delay will permit existing inventories to clear through the channels of commerce and allow industry members to conform their operations to the new requirements. USDA plans to conduct outreach and education activities during the first year to assist the industry in achieving compliance with requirements of the rule.
The full text of the interim final rule will be published in a forthcoming Federal Register. As an interim final rule, further comments are invited and must be submitted within 90 days of publication.
Copies of the interim final rule and additional information can be found at: http://www.ams.usda.gov/COOL