Voluntary Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) took effect on Oct. 11, 2002, and the labeling law becomes mandatory on Sept. 30, 2004, with broad implications for producers. Iowa State University Economist Gary May points out a few of the provisions in the COOL guidelines that will require producers, packers and retailers to make changes.

  • USDA created separate "Born In," "Raised In," or "Processed In" labels. For example, beef produced from Mexican calves that were raised and slaughtered in Texas would bear the label "Born in Mexico, Raised and Slaughtered in the United States."
  • Ground beef sold at retail often cannot be accurately attributed to a single country. Processors must list countries of origin in descending order of prominence by weight.
  • USDA guidelines state, "A verifiable recordkeeping audit trial shall be maintained." The records should be maintained by all participants in the production chain, kept "readily accessible," and remain on file for two years. The law forbids USDA from requiring an individual animal identification, but Dr. May says industry experts believe it would be difficult to develop a credible labeling system without individual identification.
  • Most heifers and young cows in the current breeding herd will be culled after the mandatory system is in effect. Without adequate birth records, they will not qualify for a "product of United States" label. In fact, meat from animals of unknown origin cannot be sold through retail outlets under COOL provisions.