In his "My Turn" of April 29, Food Marketing Institute Executive Vice President John Block paints a bleak landscape for Alaska's fishing industry under the new country of origin labeling (COOL) law that will take effect Sept. 30, 2004. The picture he paints is incomplete.
Claims that the new law will increase costs and lower profits for Alaska's fishing industry is an overstatement of the facts. The record-keeping that COOL will require is already in place. A daily record of every fish delivery is kept in triplicate for state records and electronically for federal records. Eventually it is all electronically logged and from there the origins of all Alaskan fisheries products follow up the food chain to retail. Mr. Block's estimated $159 million cost in the first year for the seafood industry includes the current cost of record-keeping that is already required in Alaska. We are already paying this as a cost of doing business because the sustainability of our fisheries depends on documentation. As for the concern that federal regulators will be boarding vessels and passing out $10,000 fines for every fish that does not have a record, this is nothing new; the Coast Guard, NOAA Fisheries and Alaska Department of Fish and Game already do.
The history of the new country of origin labeling law is very much from the grass roots of American agriculture. It has been supported by consumer advocacy groups and agricultural groups that represent small and organic food producers across America. It is a political David and Goliath story about small ma and pa food producers against corporate multinational food lobbyists. If readers sample the 5,600 public comments submitted (http://www.ams.usda.gov/cool/prcomments4.htm) they will see the extent that he has overlooked the overwhelming majority, including U.S. ranchers and farmers, who support COOL.
United Fishermen of Alaska and United Salmon Association have long worked with Alaska's congressional delegation to include fisheries products and differentiate between wild and farm-raised seafood in the labeling law. Consumer knowledge of Alaska's healthy wild fisheries is growing. Alaska's fisheries products are a hot commodity in today's markets. COOL will help consumers make the distinctions they are looking for and enhance the value of Alaska's fishery products to all. We continue to support mandatory country of origin labeling for seafood products to begin on Sept. 30 this year.
United Fishermen of Alaska