COOL takes effect, compliance training continuesWritten by Christy Hemken
USDA Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) Public Affairs Specialist Billy Cox says March 16 began a six-month period of industry education and outreach. “The goal is to help retailers fully understand what the law is about and how they’re supposed to label their products to be in compliance with the law,” he explains of the transition period.
Retailers are subject to COOL implementation when the invoice cost of all purchases of perishable agricultural commodities exceeds $230,000 during a calendar year. The term “perishable agricultural commodity” means fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.
“There are products already in the food supply chain before the law took effect, so we’re waiting for those to move through, as well as give the industry a chance to understand the law,” says Cox.
The law allows country-of-origin information to be provided to consumers by means of a label, stamp, mark, placard or other clear and visible sign on the covered commodity at the final point of sale to consumers.
He says AMS has already done a number of outreach sessions with the industry, and is working directly with the industry to answer questions and hold one-on-one meetings.
“Right now compliance is too early to tell,” he says. “We should know in three to six months how meat processors will react to this, and then we’ll have a better feel for how things are working within the industry.”
USDA will contract with various groups such as state departments of agriculture to monitor COOL labeling compliance. The agency will also conduct industry audits, and Cox says fines will be up to $1,000 per offense.
In Wyoming COOL compliance will be monitored by the Wyoming Department of Agriculture’s (WDA) Consumer Health Services Department.
“If USDA runs this part of COOL like it did seafood, we’ll go to some training and they’ll explain what to look for and how to write up violations,” says WDA Consumer Health Services Manger Dean Finkenbinder.
Although Finkenbinder has been in contact with USDA regarding the training, he doesn’t yet know when it will take place. “We won’t do any inspections until we go through the training,” he says.
After the seafood training, Finkenbinder says USDA gave the WDA a list of establishments to check for proper labeling. “I suspect that’s how they’ll do it this time, and we’ll most likely conduct those inspections along with our regular ones.”
Although the WDA was only sent to three establishments to check the seafood labeling, Finkenbinder expects the most recent list of commodities will involve many more locations.
According to AMS, cooperative agreements are in place with 42 states with enforcement infrastructure to assist with retail surveillance reviews. The agency says retail surveillance reviews will begin by April 2009 and for those states not entering into a cooperative agreement AMS will conduct the reviews itself. AMS will begin audits of firms that supply retailers with covered commodities in July 2009.