The final rule for mandatory country of origin labeling (COOL), signed into law Jan. 8 and submitted to the Federal Register a week later (with an implementation date of March 15), has been put on indefinite hold once again.

When the nation’s new president took office Jan. 20 his staff instructed federal agencies to withdraw proposed and final rules submitted to the Federal Register so that the new administration can review them.

Various organizations were in the midst of analyzing changes in the rule (www.ams.usda.gov/COOL) and their likely impact.

At the time, Andy Groseta, a cattle producer from Arizona and president of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), explained, “What markets hate most is uncertainty. The final rule will allow beef markets to adjust to the new regulations and make the six-month implementation period more meaningful. Its permanency allows dedicated resources for educating producers, processors, retailers and consumers.”

NCBA submitted comments to USDA requesting the use of visual inspection to determine the origin of cattle. Cattle from Canada and Mexico are branded with either a "CAN" or "M", respectively, and are also given additional forms of ID (including animal ID ear tags for Canadian animals) upon entering the U.S. The lack of such markings should be sufficient to prove U.S. origin.

NCBA also requested that USDA clarify record-keeping requirements in the final rule. For instance, because live animals are not “covered commodities,” NCBA believes any USDA audit should end with the packer or processor that initiated the origin claim, and not go further down the production chain to the cattle producer.