Country of Origin Food Labels Won't Keep Us Safe

| by Cato Institute

Come Monday you can thank the federal government for making food
more expensive by requiring retailers to provide useless information.

On March 16, federal regulations will finally kick in that require
perishable food at the grocery store to sport “country of origin
labeling,” known as COOL. The rules were originally passed by Congress
as part of the 2002 farm bill, but are only being implemented now
because of understandable resistance from retailers.

The COOL regulations will require that all perishable food products
be labeled at retail to indicate the country of origin. The regulations
cover beef, pork, lamb, goat, chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and
shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans,
macadamia nuts, and ginseng.

In a recent statement
announcing final implementation, Obama administration agriculture
secretary Tom Vilsack said, “I strongly support Country of Origin
Labeling — it’s a critical step toward providing consumers with
additional information about the origin of their food.”

This is nothing but a form of regulatory harassment designed to play
to anti-foreign prejudices. COOL provides zero health or safety
information; foreign meat and produce must conform to exactly the same
health and safety standards that apply to domestic-made goods.

In the past, the U.S. Department of Agriculture had
estimated that COOL regulations will cost $89 million to implement in
the first year and $62 million annually. (My Cato colleague Dan Ikenson
wrote the definitive critique of COOL not long after Congress first mandated the rules.)

The fact that a piece of meat or a fresh vegetable comes from a
foreign country tells us nothing about its quality or safety. In the
past three years, Americans have been sickened and even killed by baby
spinach from California and ground beef from Nebraska tainted by E.
coli bacteria, chicken from Pennsylvania tainted with listeria, and
peanut butter and peanut products from Georgia tainted with salmonella.

Would Americans have been any safer if those products had been labeled,
“From California” or “From Georgia” or “From Nebraska”?

Country-of-origin labeling was not meant to serve the public but
instead to provide yet another unfair advantage to domestic producers
at the expense of the public.