United Fishermen of Alaska says COOL increased demand for wild salmon products.© Getty Images

Seafood retailers in the U.S. must, by law, affix country-of-origin labels on their products (see "Sustainable Seafood," Eating Right, November/December 2005). The 2002 Farm Bill included this provision mandating country of origin labeling (COOL) not only for seafood but also for meat products, fruits and vegetables. But despite the bill’s passage, congressional Republicans (and the Bush Administration) have held off mandatory labeling of meat products for five years, claiming the labels would hurt the meat industry.

But now supporters of the labeling, led by Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD) are gathering their forces and lobbying for consumers" right to know where their food comes from.

Importers, meatpackers, food processors and grocers say labeling of meat products is unnecessary and costly. Ground meat, they claim, often includes more than one cow, making labeling increasingly difficult for meat processors. But a 2000 U.S. Department of Agriculture study indicated some livestock producers and farmers support COOL, since consumers often prefer to buy domestic products. United Fishermen of Alaska says COOL increased demand for wild salmon products.

Americans for Country of Origin Labeling says in the wake of well-publicized instances of meat contamination, consumers should be able to "make an informed choice at the supermarket" and track the origins of the meat they buy.