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Editor's Note: Restaurant COOL a bad proposition

By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
April 01, 2008

Over the years I've seen my share of exemplary - as well as horrendous - retail product labels. I'm not just struck by the curious spellings of some species, but also the origins. Ever since country-of-origin labeling (COOL) became mandatory for large retailers a few years ago it's been interesting to see how many domestic products are actually being sent overseas for secondary processing (that's a topic for another Editor's Note). In this issue's Top Story, The Call for COOL, you'll see that wasn't exactly the intent of COOL. But how often does legislation actually address the original purpose? Assistant Editor James Wright provides a good progress report on COOL, including recent audit statistics of the program.

Whether they agree with COOL or not, supermarkets and other large retailers are being held to the same product-marketing standards that most independent retailers have upheld for years, but hadn't put front-and-center in the display case. Of course, if you're a small independent retailer, you don't have to worry about COOL. Only retailers that spend more than $230,000 a year on perishable agricultural commodities need comply with the regulations. But small retailers typically have employees with more longevity and baseline seafood knowledge than the staff at a large supermarket seafood counter, so a customer need only ask for the information.

The Top Story also touches on the fact that ever since the spotlight was placed on the safety of seafood imports and economic fraud last year, a handful of politicians have made restaurant COOL their cause du jour. While I wholeheartedly think any good restaurant should have origin and production information readily available if a customer wants it, legislation that would make it mandatory to have it on the menu would be a disaster.

Restaurants are already buried under myriad state and federal regulations and have enough paperwork to last a lifetime. As Ken Conrad of Libby Hill Restaurants says in the article, adding one more element to their operation would be ludicrous, not to mention the expense of reprinting menus every time an item was unavailable. Investing money to properly educate wait staff on the origins of each menu item seems a more prudent allocation of money than requiring more labels.


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