What is a Country of Origin Label?

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The Country of Origin Label is a label on meats that specifies from where they originate. For example, if you bought ground beef at the grocery store, it is now labeled as having been grown in the US, or abroad, and specifically where it originates. If the beef came from Canada, for instance, a Country of Origin Label would tell you so.

In 2002, the US Senate passed a bill called the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, usually known as the Farm Bill, requiring this labeling. Despite passage of the Farm Bill, the US Department of Agriculture did not implement the recommendations. In 2007, the US Senate again debated the issue and is now requiring the Department of Agriculture to place Country of Origin Labels on all domestic and foreign fresh meat, lamb and pork. Arguments for requiring the Country of Origin Label have been of two basic types. One expresses the possible economic advantage to US producers of meat, while the other attempts to address concern over diseases that might be encountered in imported meats.


One of the great concerns, especially in the consumption of beef for American consumers, is that meat may carry Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also called mad cow disease. Since some cows in Canada have been shown to have the disease, and for the most part most beef in America has as yet remained disease free, consumers may be very interested in purchasing meat that has been raised and slaughtered within the US. By placing a Country of Origin Label on meat products raised outside the US, consumers can make an informed decision regarding whether the risk of eating imported beef is minimal or great, and if they feel the risk is too high, they can purchase only US beef.

The other intended benefit of the Farm Bill is that it may economically benefit people who raise meat within the US. American consumers may be more likely to purchase locally grown and raised products simply because they are interested in supporting American growers. They may choose meat products that come from the US, not so much out of concern for disease, but to strengthen the economy of their country, and to obtain what may be fresher products. Country of Origin Labels might further allow American producers of meat to charge more for their products if consumers show a marked preference for purchasing domestic meat products.

While this may benefit the growers of domestic meats, it may not benefit the consumer economically. Some see the Country of Origin Label as a means to doctor prices on American meats and thus make meat less affordable. Others suggest that the Farm Act creates a false sense of security about the safety of US meats, while creating fear about foreign meats. Except in the case of BSE, food poisoning from meat is just as likely to occur in American as in non-American meat, and in fact from the standpoint of certain contaminants like E. coli, and other bacteria, some feel America has not done enough to protect consumers regarding safe slaughtering practices. E. coli contamination in beef especially is regularly reported both within the US and outside of it.

Some also argue that Country of Origin Label requirements do not extend far enough. They would like to see all products that use foods from foreign countries, even in pet food, appropriately labeled. Especially with the 2007 case of pet poisonings and deaths related to tainted ingredients obtained in China, many consumers feel that any food should state whether any ingredients are obtained outside of the US.


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Post 1

Actually, the economic benefit to U.S. livestock raisers is not an "intended" benefit -- it's the hidden reason for COOL. It is an example of a non-tariff barrier to free trade, and is detrimental to the most efficient distribution of animals that the invisible hand of free trade provides.

This is why Canada and Mexico repealed this policy to the WTO - which was unable to do anything after the U.S. basically said "nah" to their request to stop COOL legislation from developing.

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