WASHINGTON -- The Food Marketing Institute here has alerted the U.S. Customs Service that it opposes a proposal to require country-of-origin marking on the front of frozen produce packages.
"FMI urges the withdrawal of the proposed rule," Tim Hammonds, FMI president and chief executive officer, wrote in a Sept. 23 letter to the Customs Service's Office of Regulations and Rulings, also here.
"We believe the proposed marketing requirement is unnecessary and unjustified and would be extremely detrimental to consumers. It will confuse them and distract them from more important ingredient and nutrition information on the back and side panels of the label," Hammonds wrote.
Under the proposal, country-of-origin labels must be printed on the front panel of frozen produce packages, not on the back or sides, where they currently appear. Many retailers object to the plan because they will have to absorb some packaging conversion costs for their private-label programs.
"Anytime you have to add new labels, you have to add more labor, which means more money," Paul Bernish, corporate director of public affairs, Kroger Co., Cincinnati, told SN.
Bernish said Kroger is in full support of the FMI position because it feels country-of-origin labels are unnecessary.
FMI's letter is one of about 20 official comments and 250 preprinted postcards the Customs Service received during the comment period, which ran from July 23 to Sept. 23, David Cohen, an attorney handling the case for Customs, told SN. The official comments have not yet been reviewed, but all of the postcards are in opposition of the plan, Cohen said.
All comments now will be reviewed. It is not yet known when or if the plan will be approved.
The purpose of the plan, originally requested in 1988 by packers of domestically grown produce, is to ensure that consumers know the country of origin of imported goods before they decide to purchase a particular product.
Frozen produce is being targeted, in part, because it's cold to touch and, therefore, "consumers are unable to scan the labels on frozen produce as easily as those on dry goods," according to a July 23 notice printed in the Federal Register.
"The proposal to give greater prominence to country-of-origin information than nutrition and ingredient information is completely unsupportable. There is no rational basis for requiring country-of-origin marking on the front panel," Hammonds wrote.