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November 19, 2004 7:25 AM   Subscribe

GOP looking to repeal food labeling law. Would this have anything to do with our recent impasse with Mexico (and with the EU) over GM foods? Or of recent reports of a possible mad cow case in the US?
posted by FormlessOne (27 comments total)
I noted this in the abortion pill thread. Interesting- that's something that's killed 3 people, and it's time for enhanced labels and outright bans, but there's no problem no longer letting Americans know their meat isn't coming from any countries where thousands were diseased/killed from bacteria or Mad Cow.

Forget even things like warning labels on cigarettes- we live in a country where Superman costumes need labels reading "does not actually enable wearer to fly" just to avoid a lawsuit and now we don't want to lable raw meat? Wow.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:31 AM on November 19, 2004

It has to do with corporate lobbyists who don't want the added expense. As the article says, nutrition labeling was a big up-front cost but once its part of the procedure it's no big deal. This should be passed, we should know where food comes from.
posted by stbalbach at 7:34 AM on November 19, 2004

I, for one, welcome our new vegetarian overlords.
posted by fleener at 7:35 AM on November 19, 2004

What I don't understand is how they wouldn't be HAPPY to have a Federally-official "made in the USA label." Wouldn't that be a good marketing strategy, just like for any other "Made in the USA" product?

As long as they underwent verification from the FDA or Dept. of Agriculture, which I assume would be the cost of an inspector's wages, why not just approve each company on a case-by-case basis of the percentage of their product originating from within the U.S., the same way they do for cars?
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 7:45 AM on November 19, 2004

(Possible New Case of Mad Cow Disease Found)
posted by muckster at 7:51 AM on November 19, 2004

What stbalbach said.

The food industry wants to repeal as many regulations as it can for their own business purposes. If the meat industry can save ten million dollars a year by taking off these labels or whatever the amount is, then they'll do it. It's about pushing the regulations further and further out the window step by step.
posted by Arch Stanton at 8:00 AM on November 19, 2004

XQUZYPHYR: Don't you know there is a lack of trust toward American food products in Europe. With hormones in meat products and genetically modified food that has never been questioned in America, Europe prefers its own fantastic mistakes in mass produced food. Don't take this personally: we've all made our horrible mistakes in this respect.
posted by acrobat at 8:06 AM on November 19, 2004

I'd like to clear something up about BSE. A single case of mad cow disease - while terrifying the markets, sure - should not terrify you. A single case occurring every few years is not surprising, it's inevitable, as BSE randomly occurs, although with a less than a one in a million chance of doing so. Considering the sheer numbers of cows in the States, probabilities start to stack up. So long as you refrain from feeding cows to other cows, this one case is negligible when it comes to public safety, as the chances are extremely low that anyone eating that cow will contract CJD from it. (And even if one person does, every decade, it's a minor concern next to oh, say, lightning strikes.) Comparing the statistics to the ridiculous cost of the market panics that set in when whatever country finds one isolated case of BSE makes me a sad, sad panda.

Back to the topic at hand, I can't imagine not labeling food by country of origin. It seems so fundamental to the way I do business, especially when shopping for produce. Doesn't virtually everything already ship in packages that state the origin?
posted by mek at 8:10 AM on November 19, 2004

Arch Stanton: I didn't think that certain meat products had to be labelled with their point of origin in the US anyway. As Eric Schlosser so bluntly put it in Fast Food Nation: "There is shit in the meat".
posted by scruss at 8:14 AM on November 19, 2004

I think that this only highlights our country's spectacular failure in using genetic engineering to modify current animals instead of creating entirely NEW meats. It would placate both those who are concerned with animal cruelty and those who don't want our current menagerie tampered with.

Although I must say this scenario brings to mind, for me, a large free-floating blob of protein a la the tit in Woody Allen's "Everything you always wanted to know..." rolling over the countryside, enveloping everything in its delicious path.
posted by Swampjazz! at 8:19 AM on November 19, 2004

Molly Ivins, in her book, Bushwhacked claims that those in the know go Vegetarian during Republican administrations. Why? Because Republicans receive much of their funding from the Red States-- where meat packing ancd chicken processing plants are located. Therefore FDA regulations get loosened up considerably, all part of the wonderful world of Republican Self-Regulating Industries.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:41 AM on November 19, 2004

yikes! The closing tag worked in preview, I swear!
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:43 AM on November 19, 2004

Just par for the course. [scroll down to "EPA Eases Curbs on Some Chemicals"]

The don't care about the working people as much as they do about their coporate overlords. You know the routine: Drill in pristine natural habitats, but fight tooth and nail against renewable energy sources. Make citizens pay for cleaning up industries pollution, etc, etc ad nauseum (literally)
posted by terrapin at 8:55 AM on November 19, 2004

It is important to remember how ambiguous this is. Unless a clear definition of what it means when they say "made in USA" is publicly promoted the statement has no meaning.

In cattle for example: Sperm comes from country 1. Sperm meets egg in country 2. Calf is raised in country 2 and 3. The animal is slaughtered in country 4. Finally the meat is sold in country 5. So which country does the meat originate in?

The whole thing is frightening really. Personally I think the consumer has a right to know every detail of the process, but this country of origin labelling is not going addressing the real issue, it is just political.
posted by Chuckles at 8:59 AM on November 19, 2004

Here in Canada (in particular, Ontario) the government forces cigarette manufacturers to label cigarettes as unhealthy (as, I'm sure, the tobacco manufacturers would not put diseased lungs on the packages themselves) why couldn't the same agencies do this with food packaging?

There are regulations in place regarding food allergy and sensitivities. There are guiding principles and in particular:

The CFIA compliance action will take into consideration not only laboratory results, but also the health risk to the public, economic loss to consumers, past compliance history of the product and the company's quality control over the manufacturing and labelling processes.

So, I guess it means that, unless proven wrong, the companies themselves are left to determine what QA (if any) is required for appropriate labelling.
posted by purephase at 9:10 AM on November 19, 2004

Ok, as someone who actually works with a lot of farmers in the agricultural industry, (and also as a very anti-Bush liberal) let me explain a few things about the Country of Origin Labeling Act (also known as COOL.) If you look at this issue in regards to the meat industry, it may indeed seem like a few greedy corporate owners are trying to save some cash.

However, the real problem with COOL is that it affects all growers, including members of the fruit and vegetable industries. There are indeed some larger corporate fruit and vegetable growers in places like California, but the majority of these operations are actually family owned and often make just enough for the family to live comfortably. In a time when fuel, fertilizer, and pest control options are soaring in price (and most of these growers only use these things when absolutely needed, rather than in huge amounts) it’s very difficult for a grower to spend thousands of additional dollars printing up little stickers for their apples or pears in the hopes that some lady at the grocery store will buy their American products over the cheaper produce from another country.

The idea behind this bill is very good, but it places too many of the costs onto the growers who really don’t make huge quantities of money to begin with. If this was an optional choice it would be ideal for many growers who want to compete with foreign products by labeling their produce as being grown in the U.S., but to require all farmers to pay to market their produce in this way is unfair. So, for once in my life, I actually agree with the republicans on this one.

*The more you know* (music here)
posted by Nematoda at 9:17 AM on November 19, 2004

So long as you refrain from feeding cows to other cows, this one case is negligible when it comes to public safety, as the chances are extremely low that anyone eating that cow will contract CJD from it. (And even if one person does, every decade, it's a minor concern next to oh, say, lightning strikes.)

People Die from CJD more than once a decade. Still your point is valid-- lightening is a still a bigger killer. But there are more deaths related to BSE than you're supposed to know about.
posted by Mayor Curley at 11:24 AM on November 19, 2004

I sure am looking forward to finding random bits of gristle and maybe the occasional chopped off finger in my cans of organic black beans.
posted by troutfishing at 11:36 AM on November 19, 2004

nematoda:here in Italy, when talking about fresh vegetables/fruit sold to customer as final untreated product , sales points are obliged by law (I guess in reception of some EU directive, but I'm not sure about that) to write on the package the name of the country in which the fruit was grown.

The label isn't printed on each and every fruit, but only on the package containing the fruit ; usually, these contain at least 3-4 fruits, and also when sold in market-size cases (20+ fruits) the country name isn't written on each fruit, but only on the main package.

Consider also that some recent event (introduction of chinese canned tomatoes in italian markets, something incredible for a country rich of tomato fields) is helping refocung attention on national product ; guess that U.S. farmers will quickly realize production area labeling isn't a bad idea, after all.
posted by elpapacito at 11:49 AM on November 19, 2004

refocung = refocusing
posted by elpapacito at 11:50 AM on November 19, 2004

Well, it's interesting to see that in other fields the Republicans have very different ideas:

The persistent Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), who vowed to have Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport opened to general aviation traffic, had no progress report on this subject, so the matter is still in the holding pattern.

However, Mica managed to sneak in a provision to last year’s Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act that requires airlines to include information about each airplane’s “country of final assembly” on the safety placard inside each seat pocket. There are only two major airline aircraft manufacturers, Boeing and Airbus, and each has a different view on the need for this information. Boeing supports the move, but Airbus asserts that the safety card would be an odd place for that information since all commercial aircraft have to meet the same safety requirements regardless of where the aircraft was assembled. The FAA estimated it will cost the airlines some $522,000 to comply with the law for the 753,800 airline seats that have to be placarded.

"I am flying no darn French plane, no sirree!"
posted by Skeptic at 3:27 PM on November 19, 2004

After several food scandals here in Belgium, people had lost their trust in a food industry that was more then willing to put health safety aside in order to gain more profits. They even went so far as killing a food inspector who had stumbled across a lucrative business of hormone selling for cattle.
One of the previous governments was toppled when yet again another scandal broke out, this time involving chickens that where fed diesel oil.
A national agency was set up with the job to track cattle from their birth all the way to your plate and conduct safety tests along the way.
Surprisingly, it seems to work. When ever they find something fishy in the along the way, it takes about a day to find out where the food originated from and to cleanse all store shelves that came from the same source. Before, this used to take weeks.
They also seem to have a better handle on stopping epidemic outbreaks of disease amongst cattle. When an outbreak is reported, they have been a lot quicker at pinpointing the affected farms and quarantining them before things got out of hand. Compared to neighboring countries where such an outbreak means quarantining whole regions for weeks, or even months, it saves the industry a whole lot of money in the long run.

And I for one feel confident again to eat what ever is on my plate.
posted by Timeless at 3:37 PM on November 19, 2004

I just avoid eating animals and animal products.

It worked for Leonardo.
posted by troutfishing at 11:36 PM on November 19, 2004

Yeah, but he's dead.
posted by salmacis at 4:42 AM on November 20, 2004

Leonardo DiCaprio is dead?!?
posted by jjg at 2:12 PM on November 20, 2004

Leonardo DiCaprio is dead?!?
he ate some bad meat.

Seriously tho, this is par for the course. Look at all products--from medicine, to unsafe toys, to cars failing crash tests yet still allowed to be on the market...we've had the foxes guarding their own houses for years, and regulatory agencies have been weakened and weakened. And with the current attacks on trial lawyers and trying to get liability caps imposed, it'll get worse. Fast Food Nation was a start, but we definitely need a new Upton Sinclair for every industry.

Also, what are the rules on manufacturing abroad? Do they have to meet our (limp as they are) safety standards? Or can they just import whatever and until someone dies from using it, not get into trouble?
posted by amberglow at 2:33 PM on November 20, 2004

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