Ohio’s Senator Sherrod Brown has introduced legislation in Congress that proposes extending country of origin labeling (COOL) to include dairy products.
Country of origin labeling was introduced last year, requiring origin labeling of meats, nuts and raw produce, but not dairy products or processed foods. However, the bill has caused tension with Canada, which has claimed that COOL is damaging to its farmers, leading it to instigate a World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute over the legislation.
The new bill would retain the exemption for processed foods, but require COOL labeling for dairy products including milk, cheese, yogurt, ice cream, and butter.
Brown (D-OH) and the bill’s co-sponsors Russ Feingold (D-WI) and Al Franken, (D-MN) say the main purpose of the bill is to provide information to American consumers about where their food was produced, while helping to address the issue of low milk prices.
Brown said: “This bill supports both families and farmers by requiring country of origin labeling on all dairy products. With increasing dairy imports, country of origin labeling provides critical information as households decide how to feed their families.”
But while Canada continues to seek a WTO ruling on the issue, the dairy COOL proposal has stirred up opposition closer to home.
The Washington DC-based International Dairy Foods Association (IDFA) has said that introducing the labeling system for dairy products would reduce demand for dairy and cause US manufacturers to use more non-dairy ingredients.
IDFA senior vice president of legislative affairs and economic policy Jerry Slominski said: "This legislation is misguided, because it would do nothing to help America's dairy farmers. Imposing additional labeling mandates on dairy products, which are not imposed on other processed foods, will reduce demand for dairy products and encourage food manufacturers to substitute vegetable-based or other protein ingredients instead of dairy ingredients."
However, Senator Feingold said that the contamination of Chinese milk products last year has heightened consumer concern about imported dairy.
He said: “With the discovery last year of widespread use of melamine in Chinese dairy products, consumers deserve to know whether the milk used to produce the dairy products they buy meets the high safety standards used in the US.”
Milk prices were running high until the financial crisis struck last year, sending prices into a nosedive that has left many dairy farmers unable to cover costs. Putting an end to such market instability is now becoming a political priority and, speaking in South Dakota this month, agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack suggested that improvements to price support and marketing programs could be needed to stabilize the market.