WASHINGTON, DC – April 26, 2002 – “The Farm Bill conferees have proposed an extremely poor public policy in mandating country-of-origin labels for beef, lamb, pork, produce, fish and peanuts,” stated Tim Hammonds, President and CEO of the Food Marketing Institute (FMI). FMI issued the statement following a press conference held by House and Senate conferees.

“The mandate will cost well over $1 billion a year. For food retailers, it will be most difficult to constantly separate and label products by country. The typical supermarket carries 30,000 different products from all parts of the world. In the produce department alone, items come from dozens of countries — especially during the winter months when U.S. growers cannot meet the demand. Perishable produce moves quickly through supermarkets, and products from different countries are often displayed together.

“Labeling beef would be particularly problematic and costly. Supermarkets receive boxes with meat from cattle born and raised in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. Many cattle are born in one country and raised in another. Some are processed and packed in yet a third. A labeling mandate for beef would require costly changes throughout the supply chain — with retailers and consumers ultimately bearing the expense.

“The mandate would divert $110 million from much-needed food safety programs to cover the government cost to administer the program, according to reports by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) — while doing nothing to improve food safety.

“The mandate would undermine free trade, particularly with our largest and most valuable trading partners: Canada and Mexico. Representatives from both nations have already stated that requiring country-of-origin labels is a protectionist action, serving as a barrier to free trade. According to press reports, representatives from Canada are already considering plans to void this mandate by taking action before the World Trade Organization.

“In an increasingly borderless global marketplace, a country-of-origin mandate takes a step backwards.

“Knowing the country where a food originated would tell consumers nothing about its safety. It would only raise unnecessary questions and increase global tensions, while the answers are to add more inspectors and upgrade testing at U.S. borders, which the Bush Administration is already doing.