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AGRICULTURE REPORT - Congress Delays Country-of-Origin Labeling

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This is Faith Lapidus with the VOA Special English Agriculture Report.

The United States Congress has acted to delay a new requirement to identify food products by the country they came from. Food sellers would have to tell people where meat and fish were raised, and where fruits and vegetables were grown.

Congress passed the requirement for country-of-origin labeling two years ago. The measure was to take effect this September. But a spending bill approved last Thursday included an amendment to delay the rule until two-thousand-six.

Senator Tom Daschle and other supporters of labeling say they will try to stop the delay. Mister Daschle, leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, says the delay would kill the program.

But Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman says country-of-origin labeling is a marketing tool and not a food safety program. She says the delay is needed to give Congress more time to consider the effects of the requirements.

Major processors, producers and sellers oppose the rule. They say all it would do is increase costs. Some industry groups say they will organize their own labeling system, but not as a requirement.

Many smaller and independent farmers say people are interested to know where their food comes from. Supporters of labeling note a recent public opinion study. It found that eighty-two percent of Americans would like to see country-of-origin labeling. The National Farmers Union and other farm groups, as well as public interest groups, say they will fight the delay.

Bill Bullard is chief executive officer of a cattle producers group called R-Calf USA. USA stands for United Stockgrowers of America. Mister Bullard tells us that forty-eighty countries already have such measures. He says labeling is an urgent issue. He says nothing proves this better than the recent case of mad cow disease in Washington state. Officials learned that the infected cow had been imported from Canada.

Currently, imported beef receives the same mark of Agriculture Department approval as American beef. But many of those who raise American beef are not happy with that. They say they work hard to sell the best product, and they want people to know. Tom Connelley is a rancher in South Dakota. He sells his beef directly to the public. And he says business is improving.

This VOA Special English Agriculture Report was written by Mario Ritter. This is Faith Lapidus.

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