Nice beef. But where did it come from?
Soon, customers in U.S. grocery stores will know at a glance. Country of origin labels -- known in the industry as COOL -- must be displayed on a wider array of foods starting March 16. USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said this week that the Department of Agriculture is on track for implementing this long-overdue and long-delayed expansion of simple labeling.
"I strongly support Country of Origin Labeling," Vilsack said in a prepared statement. "It's a critical step toward providing consumers with additional information about the origin of their food."
So what foods will have labels? Here's a quick look:
Consumers Union (publisher of Consumer Reports) has developed an online tool to help understand the new rules. For instance, meat sold in butcher shops is exempt, as is fish sold in fish markets. Almonds sold as part of trail mix or fruit sold as part of a fruit salad are exempt. Salad greens in bags or in salad bars? Exempt. And peanut butter and all other processed foods: Exempt. (Exempting processed foods, which are the jurisdiction of the Food and Drug Administration, not the USDA, exempts 440,000 food processing facilities in 170 countries.) In other words, there are plenty of exemptions, so know what to expect from this new label.
Oh, and remember, just because the country is labeled doesn't mean -- necessarily -- that it's safe. After all, we're in the midst of one of the biggest food recalls in history. At least nine people are dead, and hundreds sick. The culprit, as far as the FDA has said: One peanut processing plant in the state of Georgia, U.S.A. (or possibly that, and a second plant, in Texas).
(For the latest on the peanut recall -- and there are more foods recalled every day -- check the list of recalled products.)
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