(Dec. 3) Opportunity delayed?

Most grower-shippers and distributors in Nogales and Rio Rico, Ariz., view mandatory country-of-origin labeling as an opportunity to promote their product, which they almost universally insist is the most-inspected produce in the world and a clearly superior product.

A few examples of their observations follow:

“(Country-of-origin labeling) is forcing us to have an identity. I think it will hurt Florida, and I think Mexican product will go for a premium.” — Robert Bennen, president and owner of Ta De Distributing Co.

“There will be more cost involved. It will affect bulk items more (than packaged produce). We’re going to sticker every melon. From the consumer end, country-of-origin labeling probably is a good thing.” — Brent Harrison, vice president of Al Harrison Co Distributors.

“Nothing but good will come out of (country-of-origin labeling) for Mexico. If there’s any doubt that Mexico produces the best vegetables in the world, this will erase that doubt.” — Danny Mandel, a partner in SunFed Distributors Inc.

“Initially, (country-of-origin labeling) will be a problem to implement. If handled the right way, it could be good advertising for Mexican product.” — Chuck Thomas, owner of Thomas Produce Sales Inc.

“(Country-of-origin labeling) is something that’s got to be done. I think it’s good — good for the consumers. And I think the consumer will taste the difference. It will be positive (for Mexican product).” — Sergio Chamberlain, sales representative at Meyer-Pacific LLC.

“(Country-of-origin labeling) is an outstanding opportunity.” — Jerry Wagner, sales manager, Farmers Best International LLC.

Others, however, disagreed, citing the added costs and paperwork. One even decried the effort as a “logistical nightmare.” And Chuck Ciruli, a respected industry voice and chairman of Amex Distributing Co./Ciruli Bros. and of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, said, “I don’t see a need for it.”

Hey, there’s nothing wrong with a little disagreement, right?

Nonetheless, the consensus in south Arizona is that mandatory country-of-origin labeling will be good for Mexican produce.

But it appears it will take at least a couple of years longer to find out. Apparently a deal has been worked out in Congress to delay implementation of the labeling provision of the 2002 farm bill until September 2006.

An opportunity delayed — or an opportunity lost?

I, for one, remain unconvinced that mandatory country-of-origin labeling will ever become the law of the land. Powerful groups, including the Produce Marketing Association and the United Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Association, have voiced their opposition to the measure. And they have the ear of Congress.

It’s obvious that consumers don’t.