There has not been a lot of "buzz" in the industry about the Country of Origin Labeling law. That may be about to change.
The USDA's Office of Inspector General issued a report in mid-August on the implementation of an oversight program for the law at the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service. Here is coverage from The Packer.
In short, the OIG didn't see a whole lot to like in AMS oversight. One of most eye-popping revelations was the variation in how state inspectors performed. From the report:
For example, only 18 percent of the reviews completed in Kentucky during CY 2009 identified one or more noncompliances, while 96 percent of those conducted in Missouri during the same period identified noncompliances.
OIG recommendations about improving enforcement were :
Recommendation 9: Develop and implement written procedures to monitor and provide timely followup with retailers who may be willfully violating COOL regulations or who do not make a good faith effort to comply with COOL regulations. These procedures should include comparing followup reviews to prior reviews completed at applicable retailers.
Recommendation 10: Develop procedures to investigate potentially willful violations and issue civil penalties. This should include specific criteria for the types of violations that warrant civil penalties.
In response, the AMS said it agrees and has already targeted retailers who appear to be "willful" violators.
Since the Compliance and Enforcement document has been implemented, AMS has referred 137 cases of possible willful violations to the Office of the General Counsel for further action, including potential civil penalties.
USDA spokesman Mike Jarvis told The Packer that fines are coming.
“Right now (USDA) is putting together language that will come out in the final rule that will allow the imposition of fines,” he said.
I asked Kathy Means if PMA had a chance to look at the report yet. Here is her comment.
Yes – I have seen the USDA report. As you know, we’ve been heavily involved in COOL from the get-go, and we’ve continued that through the implementation and enforcement. Lee Mannering has been to USDA’s training sessions to learn how the program is going, where there are issues, where there are successes.