August 27, 2003 | By: Laura Skillman
LOUISVILLE, Ky.

As farmers face new requirements in their industry, part of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service’s role is to provide educational and research leadership to aid in implementation.

Working along with other agencies and producer groups, UK will assist farmers as the new federal country of origin labeling (COOL) rules go into effect in the fall of 2004.

“I think that some of the things we can do with our research and extension programs will help our producers in the long run fit into the new system more easily,” said Larry Turner, associate dean and associate director of the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

The regulations were the topic of a recent meeting sponsored by the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. Charles D. Lambert, deputy undersecretary for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s marketing and regulatory programs, provided an update of the COOL rules.

Country of origin labeling is a part of the most recent farm bill with the mandatory labeling requirements at retail sales to be implemented by Oct. 1, 2004.  Some 31,000 retail outlets will be affected. The law precludes USDA from requiring a mandatory identification system. Even if a universal tracking system was in place for animal health purposes, it could not be mandated for use as a trace back system under COOL, Lambert said. There are efforts under way to develop some type of national livestock identification program for health purposes.

COOL requires labeling by retailers and they set the audit trail back through their marketing chain. Farm-raised and wild fish and shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, beef, pork and lamb muscle products and ground products and peanuts are required to be labeled under the new rules. A livestock product must come from animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States in order to be labeled as a U.S. product.

There needs to be some way of verifying where the animals come from and that information needs to be available to the retailer and on down the marketing chain, Lambert said. “The retailers and their suppliers will be responsible for maintaining these records,” he said. How those records will be derived, he said, has not been defined yet.

Currently, there is a funding discrepancy between the House and Senate appropriations bills that will have to be worked out in conference committee. The House version does not include any money for the USDA to implement the COOL regulations.

The objective is to have the final rules completed by this spring, Lambert said.

Whatever the outcome, some kind of educational component will be needed so producers know how they fit into the system and what the effects are, Turner said. Some of the research already under way in areas such as animal identification will aid farmers as they face new marketing requirements.

“Some of the things we are doing are ahead of the curve as compared to other states,” Turner said. “So we have the opportunity to work along with other agencies to make sure Kentucky producers are taking a lead in the U.S. We want our producers to be in a position to be able to market their animals at an advantage, if possible. The more we can do with the educational process to impact how all this occurs will help our producers.”

Programs already in place aiding cattle producers include the Integrated Resource Management (IRM) program and the five-state beef initiative, both of which are cooperative efforts with other livestock organizations and agencies. Electronic identification and tracking of individual animals are a part of the research.

“We are looking at how our producers are going to fit into a national system," Turner said. “We want to maintain the capability of our small producers to produce. Just as in other industries there are economies of scale.  However, if we can assist our producers in banding together, Kentucky producers can be competitive. Already – not only through the work of UK but also the Cattlemen’s Association, Department of Agriculture, other organizations and producers themselves – buyers are beginning to recognize that Kentucky cattle are quality cattle.”

Contact: 

Writer: Laura Skillman 270-365-7541 ext. 278
Source: Larry Turner, 859-257-4302