Country of origin labeling hits Brookings

Amy Poppinga

Amy Poppinga

Does your banana have a sticker that says “Ecuador” or does your meat have a “U.S.” label?

Brookings consumers may have noticed an extra label on their fresh food products in the last month. The Brookings Hy-Vee and Wal-Mart have both started complying with country-of-origin-labeling (COOL) legislation, which took full effect Sept. 30.

The labeling system identifies the country where perishable agricultural commodities, such as meat, fruits and vegetables, originated. Advocates say the labels will help officials track E. coli or Mad Cow outbreaks and encourage consumers to buy U.S. products.

Duane Wulf, a professor in the animal and range science department, said the labeling system makes customers more knowledgeable. Now, they will know where their agricultural products come from and will be able to choose between the products of different countries.

“A portion of people will seek out U.S.-origin products, a portion won’t care and potentially a portion will seek out the products of a certain country.” For example, some people may seek out Australian lamb, he said.

Overall, though, Wulf said he is unsure if the labeling will cause more people to buy American.

“It may result in more demand for U.S. products, but there is no way to tell that right now,” said Wulf.

SDSU recently studied COOL labeling. Meat from three different sources had either: no label, a product of the U.S. sticker or a product of Australia label. Then, a test group of 74 Brookings consumers was given money to purchase rib eye and ground beef. The labels were rotated throughout the survey in case one piece of meat looked better to consumers.

In total, 46 percent of the consumers paid 10 cents more for the U.S. label, 35 percent did not pay more for the U.S. label and 19 percent paid 10 cents less for the U.S. label versus no label.

Wulf said many of the consumers looked at other factors, such as the appearance, when selecting their meat.

“Some consumers paid more for the U.S. label compared to others, but to some, it didn’t matter,” Wulf said.

A lack of education about COOL may cause some customers to disregard the labeling system.

Jamie Pietig, a senior animal science major, said consumers will go for “the lower price, especially right now. Most people are not educated enough ? to know what to look for and get what they want.”

He said program coordinators need to educate the public on what the labels will look like and what labels like “mixed origin” mean, so consumers can make an informed decision.

Charles Belcher, also a senior animal science major, agreed.

“It has very good potential, but it’ll take a lot of ads and eye opening for consumers to understand where their beef actually comes from. When people understand and start buying U.S. beef more ? that’s a very good thing for the local producer.”

Although COOL could potentially benefit local producers, Pietig said there are several negative aspects of the current program. Producers must sign affidavits and prove that animals are completely U.S. raised, which results in extensive paperwork. There are numerous ways to get around labeling, and the program does not have the infrastructure to enforce the laws or track all animals.

“It’s a good program, but I don’t think it will work the way they have it set up,” Pietig, whose family owns a feedlot in Minnesota, said.

Wulf said another negative is added costs. Regulation, extra packaging and increased record keeping due to COOL will increase costs for the producer all the way down to the consumer, he said.

“The big question will be: do the benefits outweigh the costs, because we know there will be costs.”

COOL was originally written into a 2002 farm bill, but implementation was delayed until this year due in part to opposition from food producers and processors. Sen. Tim Johnson and Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin have both been long-standing supporters of COOL. Sen. John Thune’s office could not be reached for comment.

What will have labels:

Raw beef, veal, lamb, pork, chicken, goat, wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish, fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and whole ginseng.


Restaurants, cafeterias and small meat markets and grocery stores do not need to participate in COOL.

Any mixed commodities, such as a bag of mixed vegetables, do not have to be labeled.

Processed foods and foods with added ingredients, like spices, are exempt.

Ground beef labels can list multiple sources.