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Meat Labels Could Bring Clarity, Cost

CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (CBS2/FOX28) -- Whether it's a holiday ham or a New Year's roast, be on the lookout for some new meat labels this holiday season.

Passed six months ago but effective last Saturday, the new mandate called Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) requires cuts of meat to be labeled with the countries where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered.

The USDA has said this is not a food safety or traceability program, but rather a consumer information program. 
Travis Wirth, perishables manager at the Hy-Vee on 32nd Street, said the labeling could still be a step forward for food safety. A customer will now know if the cow behind a steak was born in Canada, raised in Mexico, and harvested in the U.S.

"Now, all of that is being labeled on the item, so the FDA and companies like Hy-Vee can track that information, so in case there's any kind of a problem, we can pinpoint it right away," Wirth said. 
Though the USDA has made it clear that food producers still have to abide by current food safety standards, Wirth said the labeling could mean quicker responses and better containment when a food-borne illness breaks out.

But not everything is changing. Only straight cuts of meat need to be labeled. If there's any value added to the product after the fact -- like seasoning or bacon --  a label is not required.

Some wish all the labeling was voluntary. The Iowa Cattlemen's Association estimates that the new law will cost the beef industry alone $2.6 billion to comply. That means the price of beef could increase anywhere from 1 to 5 percent, said government relations director Justine Stevenson.

"70 percent of consumers are willing to pay a premium, while the other 30 percent just want a good quality product, which, you know, the U.S. has continually shown that we can produce," Stevenson said.

A voluntary program would only pass that cost on to the people who are willing to pay it, Stevenson said.

A long list of companies, including Cargill and Campbell's Soup, have signed on to a letter asking Congress to revise the law, because both Mexico and Canada have proposed tariffs against labeled American products. Those countries say the labeling is unfair, because it will keep Americans from buying foreign products, according to the letter.
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