FMI Takes Stance Against COOL Amendment

In a June 8 letter submitted with other industry associations, FMI – The Food Industry Association has asked the U.S. Senate to vote “no” on S.1260, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which includes language from the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) Online Act that could have a negative impact on food retailers.  

According to FMI, the Senate’s passage of S.1260 would create duplicative and burdensome requirements for online sales administered and enforced by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. FMI is strongly opposed to the creation of these new requirements, as they would conflict with the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) existing COOL program and be unworkable for agricultural producers, food manufacturers and grocery retailers.  

COOL is a labeling law that requires retailers, including full-line grocery stores, supermarkets and club warehouse stores, to notify their customers with information regarding the source of certain foods. Food products covered by the law include muscle-cut and ground meats such as lamb, goat, and chicken; wild and farm-raised fish and shellfish; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; peanuts, pecans and macadamia nuts; and ginseng. 

With the new legislation written as is, the COOL Online Act would require retailers to include country-of-origin information in product descriptions on their websites, reflecting the origin of the exact product the customer will receive. Changing the requirements to require country-of-origin information of the exact product to be delivered to the consumer in advance of delivery may seem minor, but FMI points out that it creates significant and costly new technology challenges, in addition to conflicting with the current requirements identifying the country of origin on the package that have been in place under USDA’s authority for more than a decade.  

The Country of Origin Labeling Online Act would require online sellers to include country-of-origin information in product descriptions on their websites and online advertisements, reflecting the origin of the exact product the customer will receive.

“Now is not the time to place additional, duplicative burdens on essential industries like food retailers, with no additional benefit to customers,” said FMI VP, Tax, Trade, Sustainability and Policy Development Andy Harig. “Online purchasing by customers has increased exponentially due to the COVID pandemic, and retailers have expanded their online product offerings at significant costs to meet consumer needs.

“The new FTC requirements, if implemented, would leave retailers with few options: making costly investments in real-time inventory tracking of every covered product in stores and online, in addition to the information on the package or product, reducing product offerings online to prevent fines and penalties under the new COOL requirements, or potentially canceling portions of customer orders if those goods cannot be sourced at the store level with the country of origin that was advertised online,” continued Harig. “None of these options add value for U.S. consumers or the food supply chain. The existing USDA COOL program works – it provides consumers with country-of-origin information in an efficient and cost-effective way that also has a high compliance rate from food retailers.”

Arlington, Va.-based FMI works with and on behalf of the entire food industry to advance a safer, healthier and more efficient consumer food supply chain. FMI brings together a wide range of members across the value chain — from retailers that sell to consumers, to producers that supply food and other products, as well as the wide variety of companies providing critical services — to amplify the collective work of the industry.