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Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
Passage of H.R. 2744
November 2, 2005

Mr. ENZI: Mr. President, I rise to speak in opposition to a specific provision in the conference report to H.R. 2744, the Agriculture Appropriations Bill for Fiscal Year 2006. The report before the Senate includes an additional two year delay - until September 30, 2008 - in the implementation of mandatory country of origin labeling for covered commodities except fish. I am highly frustrated that implementation funding has been stripped because this is not the first time the Conference Committee has traveled beyond the scope of its conference. The House bill stripped funding for implementation of country of origin labeling for meat and meat products for fiscal year 2006. The Senate bill did not include a delay. However, the conference result is a new two year delay that will keep consumers in the dark about the origin of their food.

Mandatory country of origin labeling was included in the 2002 Farm Bill! Yet, consumers and producers, except those that catch, raise or eat fish, will not see any benefit from country of origin labeling before the next Farm Bill is written. The opponents of labeling claim that it will cost too much to implement. Well, if we don’t provide any funding for implementation, they will be right. Then, any cost would be too high. I’ve heard the concerns of those that have responsibilities under the law, but those concerns can be addressed.

As I have discussed this matter with my colleagues it has become clear that there is a need for education regarding country of origin labeling. Many of them were not here for the last Farm Bill debate. For those who were, the issue of country of origin labeling may not be familiar because it was not debated on the Senate floor. Country of origin labeling was included in the bill by way of an Agriculture Committee vote and the final details of the law were worked out during a conference with the House.

For those of my colleagues who are not personally familiar with the topic, they should not excuse themselves from the consideration of this important issue because their state does not have significant numbers of livestock producers or farmers. I have livestock producers in my state, but I care about country of origin labeling because I am a consumer of agricultural products. I am sure that all of us have a lot of consumers of agricultural products in our states!

Country of origin labeling is relevant for agricultural producers, consumers and members alike. In fact, the country of origin labeling law is based on the Consumer Right-to-Know Act of 2001, which I cosponsored. The law requires the U.S. Department of Agriculture to put in place a system for U.S. retailers to inform their customers when they buy beef, lamb, pork or other perishable agricultural commodities as to what country that product originated from.

Food labeling can help increase consumer confidence by assuring consumers they are making informed and knowledgeable decisions about the products they buy. Consumers should know if the meat they are bringing home to feed their families has been produced here, or if it was imported from a country that may have fewer environmental, health and safety regulations on livestock production.

The country of origin labeling law is not a new concept in the world. Most U.S. trade partners, including the EU, require country of origin labeling for food--many of the laws in other nations are more rigorous than the U.S. law. Virtually every other item a consumer buys in the U.S. indicates a country of origin.

I understand that some people say that we don’t need to have country of origin labeling when the USDA is already moving forward on a national animal identification program. This is simply not the case. A national ID program will be useful for health safety reasons. It will help pinpoint and track the spread of disease, but this information will not be passed on to the consumer. Tracking disease is not the only concern. Providing information to consumers should also be a priority, and the only consumer-focused program is country of origin labeling.

It is a priority for me. After the first two-year country of origin implementation delay was added during an appropriations conference almost two years ago, I joined other Senators in cosponsoring legislation to move the implementation date closer to the present. With this second two-year delay, it is readily apparent that opponents of country of origin labeling are using this delay strategy to gut country of origin labeling. Rather than meeting us for an open debate on the merits of the law, they continually put it off. By saying we need more time to implement the law, they are making the law voluntary.

Time is one thing that the debate surrounding country of origin labeling has had. This issue was debated in the years before its inclusion in the Farm Bill. Since the law was passed, two years were granted for rulemaking to ensure its thorough implementation. We have already had a two year delay.

Removing funding for implementation did not improve the process, it stopped the process cold. For those who have genuine concerns regarding the implementation of country of origin labeling, the answer is not to put off implementing the law, but to implement it properly.

I want to remind my colleagues why mandatory country of origin labeling passed in the Farm Bill: consumers and producers want the information it will provide.

Personally, I am more of a food consumer than food producer. But as a shoe store owner, I could tell you where the shoes I sold were from. As a father, I could tell you where the clothes I bought for my children were made. I have to say that I would have rather known more about what I was putting into my growing kids than what I was putting on them.

It is simple. Artists sign their work. Authors pen their books with pride. American ranchers and farmers want to sign their work too. They want consumers to know that they are proud of what they have produced. Though I appreciate the work done by this conference on other important provisions for agriculture, I will be voting against final passage.

 

Thank you Mr. President, I yield the floor.

 


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