The U.S. Senate's top Democrat is calling on the U.S. food industry to immediately begin labeling meat with its country-of-origin. South Dakota Senator Tom Daschle's comments come after the first case of mad cow disease in the United States was traced to Canada.
Under a bill passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting Senate approval later this month, beef would be required to be labeled with its country of origin.
The measure would apply to other perishable commodities, including fruits, vegetables, fish, lamb and pork, but not chicken.
The House bill would delay the measure's implementation by two years. The chamber's Republican majority argued the labeling would be too costly for the meat industry.
But Senator Daschle sees it differently, especially after the U.S. Agriculture Department this week confirmed that a cow in Washington state infected with mad cow disease came from Canada. He believes American consumers should not wait any longer to get information about the beef they are buying.
"Put this country of origin labeling on our meat," he said. "Allow consumers the opportunity to know from where their products are coming."
At a news conference on Capitol Hill, Senator Daschle called for immediate adoption of the labeling, saying 43 other countries require it.
He also called on the Agriculture Department to temporarily close the border to all beef imports from Canada until the safety of such products is guaranteed.
At the same time, Mr. Daschle said Americans should not worry about the safety of beef sold in the United States. "I had a great steak last night. So the answer is 'no,'" he said. "I think that there is absolutely no reason to be concerned about the safety." Senator Daschle was joined by representatives of three farm groups and the Consumer Federation of America, which all backed his proposal for immediate labeling of beef products with their country of origin.