Merchants see little effect from country of origin labels

By Argen Duncan: Freedom New Mexico

Almost two months into the use of Country of Origin Labeling for a variety of raw foods, producers and stores are seeing small effects.

March 16, federally mandated rules went into effect to require that numerous foods must be labeled with country of origin. Included on the list are muscle cuts and ground portions of beef, lamb, pork, chicken and goat; fish and shellfish; fruit and vegetables; unroasted peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts; ginseng and some processed foods, such as roasted peanuts.

“We’ve seen quite a bit,” Russell’s Supersave manager Tim Russell said of the labeling.

However, Russell said he hadn’t seen customers do much label-viewing in the Portales store. Customers, he said, usually aren’t interested in where the food came from unless there’s news of an outbreak.

Peanuts and beef are the only major affected crops grown in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“For the most part, people here have accepted it and are going along with it,” said Curry County peanut and livestock producer Dee Brown.

Thus far, he said, he’s seen no effect from the labeling rules except a reduction on Mexican cattle coming into the area feedlots. Crops will be affected at different times, depending on when they’re harvested, Brown said.

Roosevelt County beef rancher and wheat farmer Matt Rush hasn’t noticed any differences because of labeling laws.

“We haven’t seen the impact of that going into effect yet and we’re unsure of where the process is now,” he said.

Rush, president of the Roosevelt County Farm and Livestock Bureau, said steps were being taken to try to verify all companies handling the food were applying the Country of Origin Labeling.

“From a producer’s standpoint, we do support COOL because we’re proud of our product and what we grow here in the United States,” Rush said.

He believes the requirement will be economically beneficial because many people are supportive of buying U.S.-produced food.

However, Rush is hopeful labeling doesn’t cause problems with Mexico and other countries buying American beef. For every pound of live cattle that comes from Mexico to the United States, Rush said, America sends seven pounds of specialty meat like tongue or brain back to Mexico.

Brown, also the president of the Curry County Farm and Livestock Bureau, said the labeling was positive for peanuts but more negative for beef because of the number of area cattle imported from Mexico.

Also, he said costs for companies handling the food will go up slightly because of the record keeping, which means farmers and ranchers will receive somewhat lower payments for their produce. The effect will last at least until everyone in the production line learns to deal with the labeling requirements, Brown said.