Going grocery shopping today? You may notice a change in your supermarket’s meat aisle. As of September 30, 2008, federal law requires fresh meat, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, peanuts and certain nuts to display a label that tells you the country of origin (COOL) of the product.
Mandatory COOL for meats, fish, produce, and peanuts became law in the U.S. in 2002, but industry pressured Congress to delay implementation for everything but seafood until now.
As reported on our Health blog, COOL's full implementation is a big step forward for food safety-conscious people. A Consumer Reports poll released last year found that 92 percent of Americans agree that imported foods should be labeled by their country of origin.
"This is a long-awaited change and we think it will be a great benefit for consumers," said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives for Consumers Union, nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports. "If a food safety problem is identified in a particular imported product, as happened with jalapeño and serrano peppers from Mexico earlier this year, then consumers will be able to avoid that product."
"On the other hand," Halloran adds. "Some people like to buy certain imported products, like New Zealand lamb or Holland tomatoes. Still others just want to buy local produce. Either way, the new labels will give consumers important new information."
There are exemptions, however, which concern Consumers Union. Meat, poultry, and fish sold in small markets don’t have to be labeled, nor do processed foods such as imported ham or roasted peanuts, or mixtures, such as frozen vegetables or trail mix. Here's a guide to the new rules that you can print out and take to the supermarket.