Claire H. Smith

Sunkist Seeks Workable Origin Labeling Plan

March 02, 2004

Sherman Oaks, Calif., March 2, 2004...The Sunkist marketing cooperative restated its support for country-of-origin labeling but said the U.S. Department of Agriculture's proposed implementation rules are unworkable, costly and burdensome for growers, shippers and retailers. On behalf of its 6,000 citrus grower-owners, Sunkist urged Secretary of Agriculture Ann Veneman to continue to work with all parties with an interest in the policy to develop a workable alternative.

"In the meantime," commented Michael Wootton, Sunkist's vice president of Corporate Relations, "Sunkist will proactively display country-of-origin information on all our packaging, PLU stickers and point-of-sale signage to inform consumers of the origin of our fruit."

Country-of-origin labeling first surfaced with passage of the 2002 Farm Bill, which mandated that USDA come up with rules and regulations for mandatory implementation in September, 2004. When those rules were published last October, Sunkist joined others in the fruit, vegetable, seafood and meat industries to seek a better plan. This prompted Congress to pass legislation in January delaying implementation for up to two years, although the rulemaking process on the original rules continued.

"Sunkist Growers believes in the consumer's right-to-know and believes country-of-origin information for fruit and vegetables is a good idea that can be achieved in a simple and cost effective way," commented Wootton. He cited the successful program of labeling and enforcement already underway in the state of Florida as a realistic example. It was suggested by many early in the COOL hearings process that USDA use it as a model.

USDA's own economists forecast very little benefit of COOL to producers and very high costs to implement it at the federal level, Wootton reminded the secretary. First year costs across the food chain from field to grocers' shelves are estimated in the range from $582 million to $3.9 billion. Sunkist, alone, would face an estimated $3.5 million in the first year costs alone. Sunkist expressed fear that many of the retailer's costs will be passed along to consumers or back to the growers.

The proposed rules, said Wootton, also require onerous record keeping efforts from all parties - grower, handler and retailer which would be burdensome and cost prohibitive. This type of documentation may cause retailers to demand mandatory indemnification agreements from growers.

Beyond that, the COOL regulations would likely result in the elimination of bulk displays of commingled fresh fruits and vegetables at retail by requiring COOL stickering on every piece of product in the display with zero tolerance for accidental or unintended non-compliance. "This could have an negative effect on retailers' willingness to have large displays of produce. It might even encourage them to reduce the number of suppliers or products," said Sunkist.



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