Requiring retailers rather than manufacturers to label products “stands the commonsense approach to labeling on its head,” said White, FMI associate general counsel, regulatory affairs. “First and foremost, the law places the responsibility for informing consumers of the country of origin . . . on the retailer — the one link in the distribution chain that has no firsthand knowledge of or control over this information.” In other labeling laws, “the manufacturer or importer of record is responsible for the labeling because only they know the facts about the product.”
In order to comply with the COL law, she said, “Retailers will source covered commodities only from those who can afford systems to document country-of-origin labeling to the extent required by the law. Smaller suppliers — including growers and ranchers — will have a difficult time affording the costs imposed by the law.” The law requires that the country of origin be thoroughly documented by an audit trail that can be verified by third parties.
“So despite the fact [the law] was intended to assist small, independent producers, the law is actually a strong driver toward concentration and vertical integration."
Retailers will also limit the number of countries from which they buy products, “sometimes to the detriment of U.S. producers.” She cited grapes and salmon as products that retailers may increasingly import from foreign producers.
“The law will have a profound impact on the dynamics of the entire food production and distribution system. In order for retailers to achieve compliance, growers, cattlemen, packers and distributors of the covered commodities will have to change the way they do business. The law will prohibit retailers from partnering with suppliers who are unwilling to make those changes.”