September 30: The Day Your Grocery Store Gets COOL

BlogHer Original Post

Cool, meaning hip and happenin'? Cool, meaning extra air conditioning? Nope, COOL, meaning Country of Origin Labels, which finally go into effect today, September 30, 2008, across the U.S.

When the 2002 Farm Bill was enacted, Congress required food producers to include country of origin labels on many foods, including raw meat and fresh fruits and vegetables. Implementation was delayed until now, giving food producers plenty of time to prepare. Many foods, especially "food products" -- are exempt.

Still, today's the day! Here's what we should find, beginning now.

~ Retail grocery stores are required to implement the labels but restaurants and 'food service' companies are not
~ If a food's been 'processed', it's exempt - so pork and chicken must be labeled but bacon, chicken nuggets and SPAM are exempt
- Some labels may name multiple countries - on ground beef, say, since meat processors combine cuts from a number of countries to make ground meat and hamburger patties
~ If a food product mixes foods, it's exempt - so bags of frozen beans must be labeled but bags of mixed vegetables needn't be
~ COOL labels specify the country of origin -- not state or locale -- but with any luck, some smart marketers will go the extra mile when the databases are constructed, helping us discover local or nearly-local food sources.
~ Protein-wise, look for COOL labels on raw beef, veal, pork, chicken and lamb plus farm-raised fish and shellfish
~ Plant-wise, look for COOL labels on fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables plus peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and whole ginseng

What do you think, will this be valuable? Will your buying habits when reminded that September's asparagus and strawberries are imported from the Southern hemisphere? Do any of the exemptions make you mad?

More food politics in the news:

Whole Grains Council ~ Mr. Nutrition Gets Ignored

Slate's Green Lantern ~ Should We Dispose of Disposals?

Marion Nestle ~ Melamine in Coffee Creamer?

USDA ~ National Lunch Program - Balancing Nutrition & Cost

BlogHer food editor Alanna Kellogg is buddy-buddy with her local grocery's produce manager who as recently as a month ago, asked, "What is COOL?" As of today, I bet she knows all too well.

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