The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced release of the final rule for country-of-origin labeling (COOL) as mandated by the 2002 and 2008 farm bills.

The complete details of the final rule will be published in the Jan. 15, 2009 Federal Register. The rule becomes effective March 16, 2009.

More details are available at http://www.ams.usda.gov/COOL.

The rule covers ground beef, lamb, chicken and pork, fish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables and various nuts and peanuts.

Commodities covered under COOL must be labeled at retail with their country of origin.

Processed food items are generally exempt from coverage under COOL if they are cooked, cured or smoked.

Also exempt are foodservice establishments including restaurants, bars, lounges, etc.

The law provides for penalties up to $1,000 per violation for both retailers and suppliers not complying with regulations, which includes requirements for recordkeeping.

Specific provisions must be met for a covered commodity to bear a “United States country of origin” label. The rule also contains details for labeling meat products from multiple origins, ground meat products and commingled covered commodities.

USDA funding will support state cooperator training, an automated review tracking system, a retail survey, audits of the retail supply chain and education and outreach activities.