It's not perfect, but the new federal food-labeling law that made it to grocery shelves last week arms shoppers with more information about where their food comes from.
The country-of-origin labeling provision -- called COOL -- requires grocers nationwide to disclose the source of many unprocessed foods. The labels, required for fish and shellfish since 2005, have been expanded to include fresh meat, ground beef, pork, chicken, lamb and goat, as well as unprocessed nuts, fruits and vegetables.
Many Americans aren't aware how international their dinner-table cuisine has been, but now they'll know whether the tomatoes are from Mexico or Florida, the roast beef from Australia or Iowa and the olives from Greece or California. Shoppers who like to support local producers will be able to stock their larders based on better information. And they'll be better able to avoid products when problems crop up, such as the E. coli linked to California spinach and the mad cow outbreak in British cattle.
Unfortunately, the provision included in the 2008 Farm Bill has some kinks in it. The labels will appear on raw pork and chicken, for example, but not ham and fried chicken, raw peanuts but not roasted nuts, and fresh fruit but not fruit salad. In addition, foreign producers fear the labels are a form of protectionism.
We hope the number of products covered will be expanded over time and believe foreign concern will be proved unfounded. But flaws and all, American consumers being able to make more well-informed food choices is way cool.