WASHINGTON, DC — August 19, 2002 — “Charged by Congress with implementing a mandatory country-of-origin labeling program for fresh grocery products, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering placing the burden of labeling solely on supermarkets. The obvious problem with this is that only the producers, growers or importers know where their fresh products come from,” stated Food Marketing Institute President and CEO Tim Hammonds in a letter issued to FMI members today.

The USDA is preparing to issue guidelines for implementing the new mandatory labeling law at the end of September. FMI is concerned that USDA’s interpretation of the law would require food retailers to police their suppliers by auditing suppliers’ country-of-origin declarations.

Hammonds added, “What the USDA is considering would make supermarkets liable for their suppliers’ mistakes. This would be like the Food and Drug Administration suddenly deciding that supermarkets, not manufacturers, should be liable for fraudulent labels on branded products simply because they are sold in retail stores. This places an unfair and illogical burden on all supermarkets, and it inflicts the greatest harm on the smallest operators.”

Hammonds notes that larger companies generally have more suppliers to select from, giving them a greater opportunity to select suppliers that consistently and accurately label all of their products with the country of origin. They will also be able to spread the cost of supplier audits over all of their stores. Smaller retailers, however, are unlikely to have the same range of choices, and they will incur a much larger financial burden from the mandatory audits.

“If our industry is prepared to make itself heard, we still have time to change USDA’s mind and get implementation rules we can live with, but time is short,” Hammonds said.

FMI is asking members to send a letter, on company letterhead, to Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman asking that the burden of labeling be shared equitably across the food chain, from growers and producers to packers, distributors, suppliers and retailers.

FMI recently filed comments with USDA on the issue of mandatory country-of-origin labeling. The comments can be viewed at http://fmi.org/gr/comments.