(July 29, 12:15 p.m.) The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released the final rule for mandatory country of origin labeling, and a quick review of the rule is positive, industry leaders said July 29.

The final rule was released July 28. It goes into effect on Sept. 30.

“We’re still reading through it, but our initial read of it is it is certainly a step in the right direction and much improved from the 2003 proposal,” said Robert Guenther, senior vice president of public policy for the United Fresh Produce Association, Washington, D.C.

Julia Stewart, public relations director for the Newark, Del.-based Produce Marketing Association said having the regulation published will help the entire industry.

“There have been a lot of false starts in the marketplace, and having these standards will help calm the industry down and get us moving forward with everyone on the same page,” she said.

Guenther said the USDA addressed much of the industry’s concerns during the past few years.

“The delay in implementation has actually worked, it allowed for more comments and more opportunities for the USDA to develop a rule that is workable,” he said.

Guenther said a more detailed analysis will be released by United Fresh later in the week and aggressive outreach to association members is planned during the next two months to educate the industry on how the regulation will work.

Stewart also said PMA and Irvine, Calif.-based Western Growers will have a Web-based outreach event Aug. 6 with USDA officials to review the details of the regulation.

The mandatory country of origin law, first passed in 2002, had been delayed by Congress until Sept. 30. The farm bill passed this year made changes in the 2002 law that eased record keeping requirements and allowed greater flexibility in labeling.

Guenther said the USDA provided for a six-month education period for the industry as it implements the law.

“I think the key here is retailers will work with suppliers to develop a program that is less burdensome and gets to the crux of the law by providing consumers with origin information,” he said.