(July 31) There is reason to regret the process, but the result is acceptable for the produce supply chain and positive for consumers.

Industry leaders sat down July 20-24 with representatives of consumer, retail and farm groups to hash out and to fix the mandatory country-of-origin labeling law.

The original law was enacted in the 2002 farm bill, but was beset with controversy from the beginning.

Retailers have been the most vocal about added costs and burdens.

Eventually, the original COOL mandatory law was rejected by many produce industry grower groups as well, and the implementation of the law has been delayed more than once. As it stands now, the original law will go into effect Sept. 30 of next year.

While the produce industry has been backing a consensus concept of voluntary labeling with mandatory triggers, it did not find enough backing from members of Congress — particularly once Democrats assumed control of both the Senate and House last year.

The political climate — highlighted by food safety concerns and tainted Chinese imports — allows nothing except mandatory country-of-origin labeling.

A July 24 joint communication from the United Fresh Produce Association and the Produce Marketing Association points to several improvements in the new COOL agreement.

In the deal, there will be significant reductions in penalties for mistakes in labeling, including a “good faith” standard for reduced liability for retailers.

In addition, no new record keeping will be required and retailers won’t be liable for misinformation from suppliers.

Finally, the changes also allow labeling of produce with a U.S. state, region or locality in which it was produced to label standards as produce of the U.S.

The new COOL language was tucked into the farm bill put forward by House Agriculture Committee chairman Collin Peterson in debate before the full House on July 26.

While the debate over the farm bill was uncertain at press time, there can be no doubt that the debate about COOL has effectively ended. And that is positive for the industry.