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Agricultural Marketing Resource Center

Country of Origin Labeling

   Photo Courtesy of USDA NRCS.


Country of origin labeling (COOL) requires labeling for muscle cuts and ground beef, veal, lamb, pork, goat, chicken, farm-raised and wild fish, shellfish, fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts and ginseng that states the country of origin. This mandatory measure was implemented March 16, 2009, by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In the case of imported products, the food label indicates where it started, was grown/raised and processed. For example, a meat label for pork might read, “From hogs born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”

The law establishes four general meat product categories: (1) Product of the United States in which the animal was born, raised and slaughtered in the United States; (2) Multiple countries of origin. The animal was born and/or raised in another country and then slaughtered in the United States; (3) Animals imported for immediate slaughter; and (4) Imported finished products to be sold at retail. These products are labeled as products of the given originating country.

There are exemptions to the rule. Food operations such as restaurants, cafeterias, food stands, butcher shops and fish markets do not have to label their foods. Grocery stores that sell less than $230,000 a year also do not need to provide this labeling.

On June 29, 2012, the World Trade Organization issued a final ruling on Country of Origin Labeling. The ruling confirmed the right to require labeling on fresh beef and pork. WTO also said COOL is not compliant with the U.S.-WTO agreement on technical barriers to trade and provides "less favorable treatment to imported Canadian cattle and hogs."


Country-of-Origin Labeling, Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA.

Country-of-Origin Labeling, Food Industry Trade Coalition.

WTO Upholds Ruling Against U.S. Country-of-Origin Labeling on Meat, Food Product Design, July 2012.

Other Links

Links checked July 2012.


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