Web Editor’s note: The following article is an extended version of a piece set to run in the Aug. 27 print and digital editions of The Packer.

(Aug. 23) A Zogby poll of more than 4,500 Americans in mid-July revealed that 85% of Americans want to know where their food comes from, and 88% strongly favor mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

Bill Greer, communications director for the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, D.C., said he had not reviewed the poll results and had no specific comment.

However, Greer said FMI is consulting with its membership to determine whether the retail association will lobby the Senate to repeal the current mandatory labeling law as the Senate takes up the farm bill debate there.

Earlier this summer, the House of Representatives passed a revised mandatory country-of-origin law in its version of the 2007 farm bill that lessened some of the burden on retailers and suppliers compared with the original 2002 law.

“We supported the House version for the most part, but we didn’t want to commit ourselves to not seeing if we can get some improvement in the Senate,” he said. Greer acknowledged the political environment in the Senate will be a challenge, because Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Tom Harkin is a strong supporter of mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

Kathy Means, vice president of government relations for the Produce Marketing Association, Newark, Del., said a survey of a few years ago showed more than 60% of the top 20 fruits and the top 20 vegetables are already labeled at retail.

She said previous consumer surveys have shown that country-of-origin information is not the first thing consumers seek out when they shop for produce. She said the results of any poll can be shaped by how questions are asked.

“(Consumers) look for taste, nutrition and convenience before they look for country of origin,” she said.

That said, Means noted that the recent comment period by the USDA on regulations resulting from the 2002 law was one chance to make suggestions on how that law could be improved.

“We filed our comments on that, and we are supportive of efforts in the House-passed farm bill,” she said.

Today, Means said that the industry is labeling for origin as a marketing tool.

“There is more interest (in labeling) because of food safety, but that’s a fallacy in that just because one thing in a particular country has a problem, it doesn’t mean that everything in that country is bad,” she said. “Country-of-origin labeling has nothing to do with safety.”

The Zogby results, released in mid-August, noted that three in four Americans say it is important to know the origin of all types of products they buy. Even more — 85% — say it is important to know where their food comes from.

The Zogby poll said 94% believe that consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and 90% of Americans believe knowing the country of origin will allow consumers to make safer food choices.

However, Americans aren’t always on the lookout for country of origin information, the poll showed. Results showed 15% of consumers rarely check and 4% never check.

The Zogby poll said that 11% check always, 37% check most of the time and 34% check for country of origin information occasionally.

Zogby said about 5% of the public disagrees with mandatory labeling, with two-thirds of that group saying compliance would be too costly and would drive up food prices.