Country of Origin Labeling

Country of Origin Labeling (“COOL”) is a federal law that requires retailers, such as grocery stores and supermarkets, to notify their customers regarding the source of certain foods. Examples of food covered by the law include beef, veal, pork, lamb, goat, chicken and fish. Retailers must also specify production steps of birth, raising and slaughter of some meats. Also included are fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables.

To convey the COOL information retailers may use a label, stamp, mark, placard or other clear and visible sign. The information can be placed on a package, or a display or bin. Food service establishments, such as restaurants, cafeterias, and food stands, are exempt from the labeling requirements.

The law further requires any person engaged in the business of supplying commodities covered by the law, to make information available to the retailer about the country of origin, and in some instances the method of production. The information may be provided either on the product itself, on the shipping container, or in a document that accompanies the product through to the retailer.

The USDA may conduct an audit of any person that prepares, stores, handles, supplies, or distributes commodities for retail sale so as to verify compliance. While there is no mandatory identification system used to verify COOL information, records should be maintained in order to verify that retailers are provided with credible information on which to base origin and method of production declarations.

In addition to the COOL provisions of the law, statements regarding a product’s origin and method of production must also comply with other federal law. For example, the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act prohibits false or misleading labeling.

Be aware that Idaho farmers and ranchers must provide information to purchasers about the country of origin and, if applicable, method of production of a covered commodity.