(Nov. 6) Upon further reflection, most of the supply side of the industry remains pleased with the proposed rules for mandatory country-of-origin labeling released Oct. 27.

Some of the specifics and costs associated with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rules continue to be debated.

Under the new proposals, for example, country designations can be as simple as “USA” or “UK,” which is important from the standpoint of PLU stickers. Under the voluntary guidelines, the stickers were required to say “Product of the USA.”

This is an issue with Florida citrus suppliers who use PLU stickers with the phrase “Fresh From Florida.”

“I’m still a little concerned,” said Bruce McEvoy, president of Seald Sweet LLC, Vero Beach, Fla. “There are still issues with PLU stickers. They’re little things, but they’re inventory issues.”

Still under debate is the cost for retailers to implement labeling. The USDA listed a range from $582 million to $3.9 billion the first year, which has been one of the primary reasons retailers have been fighting the law.

A study released in May by the University of Florida estimated first-year labeling costs for retailers at $70 million to $193 million, which the study noted is one-tenth of a cent per pound for the covered commodities.

“We commend the USDA for incorporating the comments of the (Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association) and other industry groups in writing the proposed labeling rule,” said Mike Stuart, president of FFVA. “In the weeks ahead we will be examining this proposal, particularly the controversial cost estimates, to develop our response and input for the final rule.”

Matt McInerney, executive vice president of Western Growers, Irvine, Calif., said his organization was pleased with the USDA proposals and would continue to sift through the 203-page document to find areas that can be improved upon. One of those areas will be the cost of implementation, he said.

“It’s a disparaging range,” McInerney said. “There is no quantitative way to get a handle around it. With the greatest of respect (to the USDA), I can’t see that full cost being there.”

Charles Hall, executive director of the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Association, La Grange, said the new provisions take the retailers off the hook and called the issues a political football game that has the growers caught in the middle.

“The USDA seems to have addressed all of the concerns the retailers had to make this a reasonable, workable law,” he said. “I would hope retailers would show support on this now.”

Ray Gilmer, director of public affairs for the FFVA, agreed with Hall.

“This is a tremendous step forward,” he said. “We have yet to see this from the retail side.”

Although there are still issues to be addressed during a 60-day public response period that ends Dec. 29, the consensus is the USDA made the controversial legislation much more palatable for all parties involved.

In addition to produce, the country-of-origin labeling law covers meat, fish and peanuts.

Final rules for implementation must be in place by Sept. 30, when the law goes into effect.