WASHINGTON -- Retailers, commodity boards and trade associations expressed their frustration before the House Agriculture Committee last week over country-of-origin-labeling legislation due to take effect next year.
The rules, currently voluntary, are creating headaches up and down the supply chain, as vendors and retailers negotiate who will pay for labeling and who will be responsible for compliance, committee members were told.
"From a practical standpoint, this system may simply collapse under its own weight," said Bruce Peterson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark.
Peterson testified that the retailer hosted a meeting of more than 700 key suppliers in February to discuss COOL compliance, and asked them to get ready to sticker all covered commodities, maintain records, indemnify Wal-Mart for violations, and agree to third-party audits to ensure compliance.
"There is an emerging consensus that our current system frequently functions in ways that undermine, rather than strengthen, American competitiveness at home and abroad," Peterson stated.
J.H. Campbell, president and chief executive officer of Associated Grocers, Baton Rouge, La., spoke on behalf of the National Grocers Association.
"We hope you agree that this legislation requires immediate repeal," he told the panel, adding that the NGA believes "this program has been a political issue for years... [and] will misinform consumers by falsely implying imported products are either inferior or less safe."
In its testimony, the Food Marketing Institute said COOL will "force retailers to make difficult marketplace decisions to minimize their liability and maximize their compliance with the law." Deborah White, FMI's associate general counsel, regulatory affairs, stated that mandatory compliance will "have a profound impact on the dynamics of the entire food production and distribution system, especially on smaller, less competitive producers."
There is some movement to derail the law, however; the House Appropriations Committee has voted to exclude implementation funding for the meat category. Additionally, protein producers have reportedly been able to enlist the support of key House Republicans who may move to repeal the legislation.