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Panel supports country-of-origin labels on meats

July 20, 2007|From the Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee voted Thursday night to require country-of-origin labels on meats beginning next year, striking a compromise as reports of tainted food from China raise consumer awareness about the safety of imported food.

After days of negotiations, the committee agreed on a plan to allow the mandatory labels but soften penalties and burdensome record-keeping requirements that had concerned many food retailers and meatpackers who opposed the legislation.

The committee adopted by voice vote the labeling changes just before it approved a five-year farm law that would govern agriculture programs.

The Agriculture Department never put in place a 2002 law that would have required the labels because then-majority Republicans repeatedly delayed it, most recently to 2008.

"I think that both [sides] gained momentum in the news of recent weeks," said Rep. Stephanie Herseth (D-S.D.), who has long pushed for the labeling, which would help smaller, independent ranchers in her home state who face competition from Canadian beef.

Herseth and others, including consumer groups, were most concerned that meats could not be given a USA label unless the animals were born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.

The agreement maintains that standard, but it also allows the labels to list the United States as one of several countries of origin if the content of meat products is mixed.

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