The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) recently announced it would temporarily suspend enforcement of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for fresh fruit and vegetables in response to COVID-19, allowing products sold to foodservice businesses to be redistributed to grocery stores, markets, and other retail businesses.
COOL food package labeling clearly identifies in what country a covered food product originated, such as the “Product of USA” label. Suspending enforcement of this labeling could seriously disadvantage American agriculture producers, especially Florida’s seasonal produce growers harmed for decades by the dumping of produce by Mexico.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nicole “Nikki” Fried raised industry concerns about unintended consequences of COOL enforcement suspension with USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue and USDA Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky. The USDA AMS has now clarified that this COOL suspension only applies to fruit and vegetable products imported and in inventory before April 20, 2020 and previously packaged and shipped for foodservice industries. The suspension does not apply to food products imported since April 20, 2020, which will be enforced as normal.
In response to this clarification, Commissioner Fried offered the following statement:
“I thank the USDA for clarifying their decision on produce Country of Origin Labeling. American agriculture is already facing tremendous challenges, with a devastating influx of foreign competition and plummeting demand from foodservice businesses during COVID-19. Florida’s seasonal produce growers supply 150 million Americans with fresh fruit and vegetables, yet are facing over $522 million in projected losses from COVID-19. Anything that opens the door to more potential foreign competition is a threat to the domestic growers who feed our families. I thank USDA Deputy Secretary Censky for a positive, productive conversation on Country of Origin Labeling and helping Florida’s farmers.”
To learn more about Country of Origin Labeling requirements, visit the USDA AMS COOL COVID-19 enforcement page.