Fresh Produce:

Potential Consequences of Country-of-Origin Labeling

T-RCED-99-172: Published: Apr 28, 1999. Publicly Released: Apr 28, 1999.

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Lawrence J. Dyckman
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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the labelling requirements for fresh produce, focusing on: (1) the potential costs associated with the compliance and enforcement of a mandatory country-of-origin labelling requirement at the retail level for fresh produce; (2) the potential trade issues associated with such a requirement; (3) the potential impact of such a requirement on the ability of the federal government and the public to respond to outbreaks of illness caused by contaminated fresh produce; and (4) consumers' views of country-of-origin labelling.

GAO noted that: (1) the magnitude of compliance and enforcement costs for mandatory country-of-origin labelling for fresh produce at the retail level would depend on several factors, including the extent to which labelling practices would have to be changed; (2) in addition, enforcement would be difficult; (3) labelling could be viewed by other countries as a trade barrier if, for example, they are concerned that additional costs may be incurred by their exporters; (4) because of the time lag between the outbreak of an illness and the identification of the cause, labelling would be of limited value in responding to produce-related outbreaks of illnesses; and (5) surveys indicate that most people favor country-of-origin labelling; however, they rate information on freshness, nutrition, handling and storage, and preparation tips as more important.

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