Agriculture

New federal rules require labeling for meat and nuts

MERED - When Diana Westmoreland-Pedrozo goes to the grocery store, she looks at more than just how many calories or how much fat foods contain.

She also looks for a little label that indicates the country where the fruit or vegetable came from.

Westmoreland-Pedrozo will have more help beginning Tuesday, when the majority of grocery products will bear a country of origin label (COOL).

Federal legislation will require retailers to inform consumers about where certain agricultural products come from.

"I think we all need to know where our food comes from," Westmoreland-Pedrozo said. "I always ask, and I won't buy if it's not from the U.S."

The new label rules apply to fresh beef, lamb, chicken, goat and pork, as well as fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables. Macadamia nuts, pecans, ginseng and peanuts are also going to have the labels on them. Wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish have had to disclose country of origin since 2005.

The new rule also allows state, local or regional labeling of products. Labeling can be done with labels, placards, stamps, bands, twist-ties or pin tags.

Some meat may list several countries if the animal was born, raised and finished in different countries.

According to the United Fresh Produce Association, more than 50 percent of retail grocers already carry country-of-original labels on their produce.

David Robinson, agricultural commissioner for Merced County, believes the new labels will be a valuable piece of information for consumers.

But not everyone wanted the labels on produce. Robinson said some producers are worried that if the food comes from out of the country, no one will buy it. Some fruit and vegetables are brought into the country from overseas, then packed and distributed here in the United States.

"There's been a lot of discussion of this," Robinson said. "Some producers just flat didn't want it."

Free-trade advocates also point out that agricultural issues remain the thorniest to solve in any multilateral negotiations to lower or remove tariff and trade barriers. Protection for farmers remains a priority for most nations, even industrialized ones, and that protection has hindered a more open global trading system.

But Robinson believes the labels are good for the consumer. "I personally want to support the local producers," he said.

Westmoreland-Pedrozo, executive director of the Merced County Farm Bureau, said eating produce grown in the U.S. makes sense.

"The food is safer," she said. "Our country, and California in particular, has some of the strictest food safety guidelines that exist."

And apparently Americans really do want to see where their food comes from. A Consumer Reports magazine did a poll last year and found that 92 percent of Americans believe foods should be labeled.

Westmoreland Pedrozo said in this frayed economy, she has to be extra careful about what she buys.

"I am very particular about where I spend my money," she said. "I want to know that it's staying in my community, my region and my country."

Reporter Carol Reiter can be reached at

(209) 385-2486 or creiter@mercedsun-star.com.

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