Fresh Produce:

Potential Implications of Country-of-Origin Labeling

T-RCED-99-200: Published: May 26, 1999. Publicly Released: May 26, 1999.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO discussed the labeling requirements for fresh produce, focusing on: (1) the potential costs associated with the compliance and enforcement of a mandatory country-of-origin labeling 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 labeling.

GAO noted that: (1) the magnitude of compliance and enforcement costs for mandatory country-of-origin labeling for fresh produce at the retail level would depend on several factors, including the extent to which labeling practices would have to be changed; (2) in addition, enforcement would be difficult; (3) labeling 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, labeling would be of limited value in responding to produce-related outbreaks of illnesses; (5) surveys indicate that most people favor country-of-origin labeling; and (6) however, they rate information on freshness, nutrition, handling and storage, and preparation tips as more important.

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