Too COOL

Published in CSP Daily News

New "country of origin label" rule for fresh fruits, vegetables applies to some c-stores

By  Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products

WAWA, Pa. -- Wawa and other convenience stores that sell a healthy bulk of fresh fruits are getting COOL; that is, they have started tagging their fresh fruits and vegetables with a "country of origin label" as part of a federal rule enacted recently. An interim final rule to the 2008 Farm Bill enacted last Tuesday requires retailers to label the country of origin on unprocessed meat, produce, certain nuts and ginseng. The interim rule will be combined with another rule implemented in 2005 on country of origin labeling (COOL) of fish and shellfish.

The rule applies to all retailers handling [image-nocss] fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables with an invoice value of at least $230,000 annually. Foodservice operations, including those within a retail operation, are exempt from the rule. Processed foods, such as sausage or fruit cups, are not included in the provision.

While the rule will primarily affect supermarkets, some convenience stores must adhere to the rule as well, or risk up to $1,000 per violation in fines. Wawa, Pa.-based Wawa Inc. has already started the compliance process. "We sell so much fresh produce that we are required to comply," Wawa public relations manager Lori Bruce told CSP Daily News.

The COOL rule is actually a provision of the 2002 Farm Bill. An interim rule on fish and shellfish labeling was enacted in 2004, while the remainder of the rule was postponed. The recently enacted 2008 Farm Bill included the provisions for the remaining foods.

Billy Cox, spokesperson for the USDA 's Agriculture Marketing Service, which is in charge of enforcing the rule, said that the next six months will be spent educating retailers while the rule is finalized. "What we will be doing is marrying the two rules together into one final rule for country of origin labeling," Cox told CSP Daily News.

The USDA allowed comments prior to enacting the rule, and NACS took the opportunity to push revisions protecting retailers. It succeeded in changing the rule to allow retailers to maintain records electronically and for a shorter period of time, and the USDA also took its suggestion of eliminating the requirement for retailers to create a “verifiable audit trail,” according to NACS.

The USDA continues to review comments during this final interim period, and NACS said it hopes it will further adjust the rule to ensure retailers will not be penalized for non-compliance due to the conduct of others, as it did for the initial provision on fish and shellfish.

The rule includes ground and muscle cuts of meat, fresh and frozen produce, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng. Some packaged foods might be labeled by the supplier. For those that are not, retailers must create a labeling system of their own. The label, be it a sticker, placard or sign, must be legible and conspicuous, with limited abbreviation allowed. Visit www.ams.usda.gov for more information.

By Abbie Westra, Editor-in-Chief, Convenience Store Products
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