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Editor's Note: COOL scofflaws may get a surprise

By Fiona Robinson, Editor in Chief
August 01, 2006

Retailers and suppliers who've hoped and prayed that country-of-origin labeling would not be enforced will have a rude awakening this month when state inspectors come knocking on their door. COOL, which went into effect in April 2005, requires retailers to label seafood as to its country of origin and whether it's wild or farm-raised. Additionally, both retailers and their suppliers are required to keep supply-chain records for up to one year. COOL was part of the 2002 Farm Bill and strongly supported by Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens to protect his state's seafood industry.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, charged with enforcing country-of-origin labeling, is sending inspectors to retailers in 14 states to verify compliance with the law (see Newsline story, page 10). Inspectors will likely audit seafood suppliers in the fall, according to the National Fisheries Institute.

It will be very interesting to see how many supermarkets (independent fish markets are exempt) are actually labeling the seafood in their cases, and how many suppliers will be able to produce an entire year's traceability records showing the source, production method and other COOL record-keeping requirements. Retailers and suppliers who have yet to comply may want to visit the Agriculture Marketing Service Web site at www.ams.usda.gov/cool for a rundown on the rules.

After the April COOL 2005 deadline, the mainstream media paid a lot of attention to seafood labeling at retail, which fueled a year's worth of various exposés on seafood-labeling scams. Expect the same type of media coverage when COOL compliance rates are made public, whenever that happens. Headlines about consumer fraud sell newspapers and magazines.

There will always be retailers who carry product that is inadvertently mislabeled. Many retailers are more concerned about their employees showing up to work than whether the salmon is labeled as wild or farm-raised. One large supermarket chain here in the Northeast has been running radio ads about a special on wild Atlantic salmon. Clearly, seafood-labeling errors occur everywhere and at all levels of marketing.

Errors aside, it's the retailers' responsibility to comply with COOL, whether they want to or not. A decade ago processors went through the same phases of denial, acceptance and eventual compliance when HACCP (hazard analysis of critical control points) was rolled out. Retailers and suppliers who haven't complied with COOL would do well to jump to the compliance stage pretty darn quickly.



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