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Country-of-Origin Food Labels

written by: Rose Kivi•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 5/9/2011

The Country-of-Origin Labeling requirement for consumer food products took effect on September 30, 2008. How do the new labeling requirements inform consumers about their food purchases?

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    What is the Country-of Origin Labeling Law?

    The Country-of-Origin Labeling requirement (COOL) is a new congress mandated labeling system for food products sold in the United States. It is designed to let consumers know what countries their food products originated from. Unprocessed food products sold in retail stores to consumers are required to be labeled in a clear manner that consumers can view. Products can be labeled directly on the packaging or on signs displayed near the food items. Restaurants are not required to exhibit labeling for their food products. Labeling is required on unprocessed meats, fruits, vegetables and some nuts. Foods that are processed do not require labeling. The term processed in regards to the labeling law, means any item that has been cooked or altered. Raw items are considered not processed. Cooked items and items that have combined ingredients are considered processed. A package of carrots would be considered unprocessed, but a package of carrots with ranch dipping sauce would be considered processed.

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    Implementation of the Labeling System

    In order to meet the requirements of COOL, food suppliers must keep detailed records of the origin of their food products and must supply the required information to food retailers. Suppliers can supply the information to retailers in one of two ways.

    1. Suppliers can label food products that are sold to the retail store.

    2. Suppliers can provide the origin information of food products to the retailer and let the retailer display the information on signs in the store.

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    Understanding Country-of-Origin Labels

    Under the Country-of-Origins Labeling requirement, food products must be labeled with their country of origin. In some circumstances, food products will be labeled with multiple country names. The labeling requirement is simple for produce. Fruits, vegetables and nuts are labeled with the country that they were grown in. If the package contains product from multiple countries, the label will state the multiple countries. The labeling requirements for meat can be more confusing. Animals used for meat can be born in one country and raised in another. Some meat products can contain animals from multiple countries as well. Meat products can fall into one of the four general labeling categories.

    Product of the United States

    Products of the United States are products that originated from and were packaged in the United States. In the case of meat, it means that the animal was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.

    Multiple Countries of Origin

    If the animal was born in another country and imported into the United States to be raised and slaughtered, the meat would be considered to have multiple origins. The label on meat products from multiple origins are labeled (United States) and (Country of Origin).

    Animals Imported for Immediate Slaughter

    If the animal is born and raised in another country and then imported to the United States for immediate slaughter, it falls under the category of "Animals Imported for Immediate Slaughter" and is labeled (Country of Origin) and the (United States).

    Imported Finished Products

    Food products that originated in and were packaged in another country or are born, raised, slaughtered and packaged in another country are labeled with that countries name.