The Produce Marketing Association (PMA) and the Western Growers Association (WGA) have jointly released draft best management practices for produce country of origin labeling. The draft best practices were developed by a joint PMA-WGA Country of Origin Labeling Task Force, whose members hail from across the supply chain.

The task force was co-chaired by Tom Deardorff II, Deardorff Family Farms, and Mike O’Brien, Schnuck Markets.

“After weekly conference calls throughout May to develop these draft best practices, the task force is pleased to present these to industry for its review and adoption,” Deardorff said. “I’d like to thank the members of the task force for their willingness to come to the table with ideas and concepts that will help everyone in the supply chain provide origin labeling in a cost-effective manner.”

The draft best practices – which address supplier and retailer origin labeling and recordkeeping – could be updated to meet forthcoming U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations, and based on industry experience. Release of those regulations is expected in July.

While there are no means to confirm how quickly after the Sept. 30, 2008, origin labeling deadline USDA will begin in-store compliance checks, it is generally believed that the agency will allow a phase-in period (possibly ranging from six months to a year).

“The intent in creating these best practices is to give our industry guidance that can be implemented as soon as practically possible by all supply chain partners,” O’Brien noted.

“Currently, 80 percent of produce already carries a labeling mechanism of some type that would be adaptable to convey country of origin labeling and 60 percent already bears country of origin labeling,” O’Brien said. “With this level of labeling already in place, the best practices reflect the willingness of the supplier, importer, wholesaler and retailer communities to come together and develop supply chain solutions.”

PMA and WGA will co-host a webinar for industry to provide feedback on the draft country of origin labeling best practices. The webinar will be held June 24 at 4 p.m. (Eastern daylight savings time). Additional specifics of this meeting, including registration details, will be distributed to PMA and WGA members in the near future.

The draft country of origin labeling best practices can be accessed via WGA Web site at www.wga.com, or the PMA Web site at www.pma.com/issues/labeling.cfm.

PMA is a trade association serving more than 2,100 companies representing every segment of the global produce and floral supply chain. WGA is an agricultural trade association whose members from Arizona and California grow, pack and ship 90 percent of the fresh fruits, nuts and vegetables grown in California and 75 percent of those commodities in Arizona.