A bill introduced in the U.S. Senate (the Meat Promotion Act of 2005) puts consumers and the marketplace in the driver’s seat regarding country-of-origin labeling for meat products, rather than the federal government.

According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, the bill’s voluntary labeling program for meat would add value throughout the food chain, including at the producer level, and the bill deserves Senate support.

“Senate introduction of this voluntary, market-based program would appeal to consumers, successfully increase market visibility for U.S. food products and let farmers produce food instead of paperwork,” said AFBF President Bob Stallman.

AFBF strongly supports the bipartisan Senate bill, introduced by Sens. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.). The legislation is a companion bill to (H.R. 2068), introduced in the House. Both pieces of legislation would replace the mandatory country-of-origin labeling program for meat, which is scheduled to take effect on Sept. 30, 2006. The voluntary meat labeling bills would give producers added market value rather than a costly federal mandate, according to Stallman.

The Agriculture Department has estimated the costs of the current mandatory country-of-origin label program could be as much as $4 billion in the first year alone, with several hundred million dollars a year in recurring costs. Stallman said that USDA also has estimated that more than 60 percent of these costs would be borne directly by the U.S. meat and livestock industry.

“Mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat would place significant new costs on beef, hog and sheep producers, with the largest impact falling on independent producers,” Stallman said. “This is clearly a marketing issue, not a food safety issue, and by approving a voluntary program, Congress would be placing control in the hands of consumers at the marketplace.”

According to Stallman, passage of the Meat Promotion Act legislation would “move the worthy concept of voluntary country-of-origin labeling forward and promote American-grown food products.”

“We believe consumers are willing to pay a premium for origin-verified meat products and it is up to the marketplace to meet that demand,” Stallman said. “This program can be modeled after similar USDA-certified programs that are already paying dividends for consumers and producers alike.”