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Talks under way to speed meat labels, animal ID

by 5m Editor
19 March 2007, at 4:07am

US - Linking the two programs seen likely to win over detractors

It's been five years since Congress passed a law requiring meat to be marked with the country of origin, but shoppers will have a hard time finding those labels.

The food industry has succeeded in repeatedly delaying the labeling requirement. It's currently put off until the fall of 2008.

But an end to that delay could be in the works. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, Rep. Collin Peterson, wants to marry the labeling program to a plan to require livestock producers to participate in a national animal identification system.

Tying the two programs together could win support for both from the packers, producers and other groups that dislike one of the programs but like the other. At least that's what Peterson is betting on.

"Bottom line is that country-of-origin labeling is the law. It's been delayed. It will not be delayed anymore. We are going to figure out how to implement it," says the Minnesota Democrat, who has been meeting recently with representatives of key interest groups.

Meatpackers and others who oppose the labeling law have good reason to sit down with Peterson. Republican leaders once could be counted on to keep putting off the requirement. But Democrats are now in charge of Congress, and there could be a Democrat in the White House after 2008.

Packers also would get a chance to alter the labeling law and get something they want and many farmers oppose - a mandatory ID system.

ID tags would not only make it easier to determine the native country of a hog or steer, but they would also allow investigators to quickly track down the farm where a diseased animal originates.

That Peterson wants to address both the labeling and ID issues "is welcome news," says David Ray, a spokesman for the American Meat Institute, a trade group that represents packers such as Tyson Foods Inc. and Hormel Foods Corp.

The largest groups representing cattle and hog producers also are willing to talk.

"We thought for our industry that we ought to look at how this might work together," says Joy Philippi, a Nebraska farmer who is president of the National Pork Producers Council.

Source: DesMoines Register.com

5m Editor