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Cool with COOL: Area grocers respond to new labeling rules

Staff writer

On March 17, the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture began enforcing the rules on country-of-origin labeling.

Known as COOL, the rules apply to muscle cuts and ground beef, pork, lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and ginseng.

Grocers in Marion County have been applying country-of-origin labels to their fresh produce for several months.

Mitch Carlson manages the produce department at Carlsons’ Grocery in Marion. He said the business has been applying country-of-origin labels since Jan. 1. Computer-generated stickers on the shelves indicate where the produce was grown. Produce that comes already packaged includes the country of origin on the label.

Rules regarding fresh meat are posted at the meat counter. One general label — U.S., Canada, Mexico — applies to all fresh meat products not specifically labeled. It indicates the meat may have been produced, grown, and processed in one or several of those countries.

“It helps that we get all our fresh produce from one warehouse,” Carlson said. “They keep track of those things for us.”

Gerold Vogt, co-owner of Vogt’s Hometown Market in Hillsboro, said implementation of COOL has been simple. Signs are posted at the meat counter indicating a product’s specific country of origin or a combination of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

Carlson and Vogt said a few customers are diligent about checking labels and do not buy produce that comes from certain countries.

The other grocers in the county expressed misgivings about country-of-origin labeling.

Dale Franz of Dale’s Supermarket in Hillsboro said, although it was simple to implement the rules, the upkeep will be a hassle.

“They don’t realize how much time it takes for a small business owner to update the labels,” he said. “We can’t afford to hire someone to do just that.”

He said 99 percent of customers “could care less” about the origin of the food they buy.

Rick Turner, owner of Peabody Market, described the new rules as a joke.

“If they don’t know exactly where it came from, they just put a U.S. Canada Mexico label on it,” he said. “That doesn’t tell you anything.”

He said the person working at the meat counter has information on country of origin and can give it if a customer asks. Pre-packed products come labeled.

He concurred with Franz that people in general “don’t give a damn” about a food product’s origin.

According to Keith Banman of Keith’s Foods in Goessel, the new rules have not much affected his business. He relies on produce coming into the store pre-labeled.

“I haven’t had anybody ask me about it,” he said. “It hasn’t made a whole lot of difference.”

Last modified March 26, 2009

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