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France begins 2-year test for county-of-origin labeling

A two-year trial period for mandatory country-of-origin labeling is getting underway in France, but it’s not as likely to conflict with international trade rules as the U.S. COOL program did in recent years because it’s tied to the European Commission’s work on the issue.

Frenchcolors_406x250Country-of-origin labeling (COOL) efforts in France will focus on 100 percent French meat or milk. Further, products that contain 8 percent or more meat or 50 percent or more milk must have the origins of those ingredients disclosed on their labels.

Speaking through their trade association, French processors and livestock producers said the industries view the COOL requirement as a significant advancement that will give consumers “clear and transparent” information on their purchases.

However, the European Dairy Association (EDA) fears dairies in border regions with access to multiple European Union states could be harmed.

Canada and Mexico were successful in filing claims against the U.S. COOL system with the World Trade Organization. The U.S. has since been scrapped the mandatory labels. While they existed, the U.S. COOL requirements were more complicated than what is planned in France.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture designed the American COOL system that required labels to disclose where meat producing animals were born, where they were raised, and where they were slaughtered for human consumption.

The impact of the French system will likely get its first airing in December when the EU will submit a report on the effects of the “visual labeling.” The EU has not decided on the legality of the system.

Public opinion surveys have shown 90 percent of French consumers believe it is important to know the origin of meat used in processed food. About 84 percent favor mandatory country-of-origin labeling for milk and dairy products.

The French COOL trial will use the so-called “Sens” system, which uses a mix of colors and symbols that also shows healthy ways to eat a given food. France has been experimenting with visual labels for also showing such things as fats, sugar, salt and calories.

Congress dropped COOL after Canada and Mexico won the WTO case. Had the U.S. continued, Canada and Mexico could have imposed tariffs on all sorts of U.S. products as punishment.

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