Pinpointing origin of fruit, veggies

BURNING QUESTION

October 25, 2006|By Erica Marcus

I find it difficult to determine which fruit and vegetables are harvested in the United States and which have been shipped from other countries

The federal government and the various sectors of the food industry have been debating this issue for years. A provision of the 2002 Farm Bill requires country-of-origin labeling for meat, fish and produce. That is, these foods must all bear labels indicating where they come from.

Implementation of country-of-origin labeling for seafood has taken effect, but in January 2004 and last month, President Bush signed laws that delay the labeling for meat and produce until September 2008.

Opposition to country-of-origin labeling has come primarily from trade associations such as the Grocery Manufacturers of America and the American Frozen Food Institute. According to industry analyst Phil Lempert, these trade groups maintain that labeling is going to cost money, and that cost will be passed along to consumers.

Lempert suspects that other factors are at play. "They don't want people to see that a 2-inch-high strawberry in January was imported from Chile, because they'll realize it was picked two weeks ago, before it was mature, and will taste like nothing." U.S. farmers tend to be in favor of country-of-origin labeling.

Meanwhile, Florida and Montana have passed state laws requiring country-of-origin labeling. Some retailers, such as Whole Foods, have voluntarily adopted similar programs.

While retailers are not legally bound to tell customers where food comes from, wholesalers must tell their customers - the stores. Every crate of produce delivered to the market bears its country of origin. Some produce is displayed in its original container; you should be able to see where it is from. If the produce has been transferred to a bin, ask if you can see the box it came in.

Erica Marcus writes for Newsday. E-mail queries to burningquestions@newsday.com, or send them to Erica Marcus, Food/Part 2, Newsday, 235 Pinelawn Road, Melville, NY 11747-4250.

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