Rehberg calls for better labeling of farm products
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Montana's sole member of the U.S. House of Representatives is calling for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to step up enforcement of its Country of Origin Labeling program to prevent what he calls deceptive and misleading practices. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., wrote in a letter to USDA that several Montanans have shown him examples of labeling where the print is in an almost-unreadable type face, making it difficult to read that the product is also from Canada and Australia. "We've fought long and hard for mandatory Count ry of Or igi n Labeling," said Rehberg, a fifth-generation rancher from Billings. "If distributors of foreign products can circumvent the intent of the law with misleading labels that meet the letter of the law but not the spirit, I'm afraid our efforts will have been in vain. Labels that are intended to deceive, rather than inform, have no place on our shelves." Rehberg, a fifth-term representative who faces seven opponents from three parties in his bid for re-election this year, said elements of the law implementing COOL were intended to provide flexibility, it's purpose is to provide consumers with accurate information. The program, after years of debate, was implemented in the 2007 Farm Bill which Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., helped to write. In his letter, Rehberg cites the implementation rule that is leading to the practices he lists: "In order to provide the industry with as much flexibility as possible, this rule does not contain specific requirements as to the exact placement or size of the country of origin or method of production (wild and/or farm-raised) declaration. However, such declarations must be legible and conspicuous, and allow consumers to find the country(ies) of origin and method of production, as applicable, easily and read them without strain when making their purchases … ." But the use of advertising gimmicks and unreadable labels meant to deceive consumers counteracts this purpose, Rehberg wrote to the USDA. Stronger enforcementof the statute will benefit consumers and producers alike, he said. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a Big Sandy farmer and a supporter of COOL, also has worked to make it easier for consumers to know from where their meat products came. Tester also recently introduced a bill, The Meat Safety and Accontability Act, to bettertrace the origin of contaminated meat. "Knowing where our food is raised and knowing that it's safe, is knowledge consumers need," Tester said Thursday, "especially when the choice is between foreign beef and beef raised here at home. That's why I've worked with USDA to get the meat industry to put more information on their packaging, so consumers can see clearly where their meat is coming from.And that's why I recently introduced the Meat Safety and Accountability Act. I'll keep working hard to make sure folks have the information they need and that the food they're buying is safe."