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New country-of-origin labeling laws tell you where most of your fresh food comes fromNew country-of-origin labeling laws tell you where most of your fresh food comes from

The Ann Arbor News | by Amanda Hamon | Shoppers who have hit local grocery stores in the last week may have noticed that raw meat and produce now come with a healthy dose of new information.

That's because new federal regulations, called country-of-origin labeling, or COOL laws, now require retailers to clearly label where fresh produce and meat comes from.

Retailers can include the country of origin on existing stickers on a product, or post a sign next to a display of, for example, unpackaged produce such as tangerines or tomatoes.

Under the law, foods like raw and ground beef, pork and lamb, and raw peanuts, fresh fruits and vegetables must be marked with a country-of-origin label. If an animal was born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S., it can carry a U.S. label; same goes for produce exclusively produced in the U.S.

The government says the intent of the law is to provide more information to consumers who previously have had no way of knowing where certain foods come from. The idea is to allow wary consumers to avoid foods from countries where safety oversights may be lax, or to allow consumers to choose foods from specific countries.

The country-of-origin labels are not without their ambiguities, said Chris Hooks, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Ann Arbor-based Busch's Fresh Food Market.

Most large American beef companies have chosen to say their products come from the U.S., Canada and Mexico because they can't guarantee that all their animals were born, raised and processed in the U.S., Hooks said.

"I think people notice (the labels) and they don't really understand why Canada and Mexico are on the package. Education is going to be key," Hooks said. "We buy all our meat from the Midwest, yet by law we have to label what the packer puts on the invoice."

"I can't imagine how hard it would be to prove that an animal never set foot in Canada or Mexico when the borders are wide open," Hooks said. Busch's lamb and veal comes from Michigan, and its chicken comes from Indiana, Hooks said.

According to The Associated Press, some companies have said it's too expensive to separate which of its cattle came from which country.

Complaints from the National Farmers Union about the vague labels are being considered by the USDA.

Busch's marked its meat with the appropriate labels the week before the effective date on Sept. 30, Hooks said. And signs went up around produce bins early on Sept. 30.

Robert Cantelon, co-owner of Arbor Farms Market on West Stadium Boulevard, said most of his store's meat and produce come from Midwestern farms. Most of his customers know where the store's food comes from, he said, because they often ask.

" ... Independent business people don't really care for a lot of government regulation," Cantelon said. "It does cause extra work ... but I think (the COOL laws) are good. Many consumers do want to know where their product comes from."

Jan Leonard of Ann Arbor, shopping for meat at Busch's South Main Street store, said she didn't know about the new labeling laws until approached by a reporter, but said she will probably pay attention to them now that she knows about the new law.

"I would prefer U.S. products. It's probably safer," Leonard said. As for meat with multiple-country labels, Leonard said, "I think I'll be looking at it very carefully to see if I want to buy it."



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