USDA may propose new COOL laws

The Obama Administration wants new labels for fresh meat and other foods that more clearly show where the animal or food item came from, according to consumer groups who recently had a conference call with Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

The Associated Press is reporting that Tom Vilsack will ask the meat industry to voluntarily follow stricter guidelines for new package labels designed to specify a food's country of origin. The industry will write new rules if the industry does not comply. The country-of-origin labeling laws were originally enacted as part of last year's farm bill after much compromise. The meat industry protested that the laws were burdensome and could lead to higher changes, while COOL supporters maintained that the rules allowed meat companies to be too vague about where an animal was born.

People who were involved with the conference call included Jean Halloran of Consumers Union and Patty Lovera of Food and Water Watch. They reported that Vilsack wants origin labels to cover more foods, narrowing the exemption for processed foods, such as cured bacon. Lovera said that Vilsack is expected to lay out the new proposals in a letter to the meat industry today.

Mexico and Canada both filed protests to the World Trade Organization when the COOL laws passed. Canada shelved its complaint once former President Bush agreed to allow more flexibility on meat labels, but Canadian Agriculture Minister Gary Ritz said the country is ready to renew its complaint if the laws change unfavorably.

“Should the Obama administration continue on with protectionism and country-of-origin labeling, we will then reignite our WTO (World Trade Organization) challenge,” Ritz said

Source: Associated Press, Reuters

Smithfield not making profits in hogs for the fourth quarter

Smithfield Foods CEO C. Larry Pope said that it was a “miserable year” to be raising hogs and announced that the company will not be profitable in its hog unit for the fourth quarter, ending in April. However, results should be better after that.

Pope, giving a webcast presentation at the Consumer Analyst Group of New York (CAGNY) conference in Boca Raton, Fla., said, “We do think the future is getting better. If you look at our fiscal third quarter and into the fourth quarter you see the hog market coming up.” He said that current prices of about $45 per hundredweight are still below production costs, Reuters reports.

Yesterday, Smithfield announced a restructuring of its pork operations, which will involve the closing of six plants and cutting 1,800 jobs. The restructuring will save the company about $55 million in 2010 and $125 million in 2011.

Source: Reuters

Tyson donning/doffing lawsuit allowed to proceed

A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit claiming that thousands of Tyson Foods employees were denied overtime and other compensation can proceed. U.S. District Judge John Lungstrum granted the request for class certification, the Kansas City Star reports, setting the stage for a trial involving million of dollars in alleged back pay.

The lawsuit was filed in 2006 by thousands of employees in Tyson's Kansas slaughterhouses in Holcomb and Emporia. The issue is whether Tyson should be paying the workers for the time they spent donning and doffing protective gear, cleaning equipment, waiting for production lines to operate, working during unpaid meal hours and walking to and from changing, work and break areas.

Lungstrum certified the federal claims as a collective action and the state claims as a class action, allowing the workers to proceed collectively.

Source: Kansas City Star