State's hog producers remain divided over labeling rules

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

Hog producers are divided over new regulations that require labels identifying the country of origin for farm products sold in the United States.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture issued the new labeling regulations last week for pork, beef, lamb and other agricultural products. The new labels are to be used beginning Sept. 30, 2004.

But the debate over the new rules has divided pork producers across the state.

The Iowa Pork Producers Association supports the new labeling requirements. The National Pork Producers Council is opposed to the rules.

The labeling requirements was part of the 2002 farm law and covers pork, beef, lamb, fish, fresh fruits and vegetables. It does not apply to processed meats, such as bacon.

After the new rules are published this week, people will have 60 day to comment.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that it will cost up to $4 billion to implement the law during its first year.

Jon Caspers, a hog producer from Swaledale and president of the National Pork Producers Council, said the ag department's cost-benefit analysis reinforces the pork council's position that the program is all costs and no benefits for hog farmers.

"Four billion dollars is a pretty big number for us poor hog farmers," Caspers said. "Much of the cost _ $500 million _ is just for the paperwork."

There is nothing indicating meatpackers and retailers will be able to pass that cost onto customers, so it leaves hog producers holding the bag, Caspers said.

Tim Bierman of Larrabee, former president of the Iowa Pork Producers Association, said the organization's policy favors labeling, but the issue probably will be revisited when the association meets in January.

"There are producers on both sides of the issue," Bierman said. "It's a hard one to figure out."

Meatpackers are saying their processing costs will rise because they will have to remodel their plants to separate hogs raised in the United States from hogs raised in other countries.

"When you are processing 1,000 hogs an hour, the cost of keeping track of all of them will be tremendous," Bierman said. "They're telling us that cost will come out of the pork producers" pockets."

Despite the possible increase in costs to producers, hog producers in the state support labeling, Bierman said.

"We still feel consumers will think they are getting a better product if it comes from the U.S.," he said. "It might be just good old-fashioned patriotism for consumers to support their own and buy U.S. pork."

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