Pork and beef producers should start now to prepare for the new country-of-origin labeling law (COOL), declares Mark Dopp, senior vice president of Regulatory Affairs and General Counsel, American Meat Institute (AMI).

COOL calls for a two-year voluntary program followed by a mandatory labeling program for meat and fresh fruits and vegetables.

Dopp told attendees at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association annual meeting in Nashville that producers will need verifiable documentation for every animal born in 2003 and thereafter that goes to market when COOL becomes required in September 2004.

In September 2004, meat packers will require this information on cattle and hog purchases destined for retail sale. The information will be required for documentation to retail customers.

Documentation will be required all along the production, processing and distribution chain, says Dopp.

Starting in September 2004, COOL prohibits retail sales of pork and beef products from unknown sources into U.S. retail outlets. "The American Meat Institute continues to believe that the country-of-origin labeling law was a bad idea and that Congress should repeal it or make it permanently voluntary," Dopp says.

The comment period on COOL has been extended to Feb. 21, 2003. Comments should be sent to: Country of Origin Labeling Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA STOP 0249, 1400 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20250-0249; faxed to (202) 720-3499 or sent by e-mail to cool@usda.gov.