Washington DC. President Bush has signed the farm bill into law. The farm bill includes a national country-of-origin labeling provision, modeled on a 1979 Florida law and long sought by winter vegetable growers and consumer groups. It requires that, effective September 2004, all imported fruits, vegetables, peanuts, meats and fish be labeled with the country of origin on grocery store shelves.

J. Luis Rodriguez, trade advisor to Florida Farmers, Inc. and Florida Co-chair of Farmers and Ranchers for Bush 2000, attended the early morning signing ceremony at the White House. Florida Farmers, Inc., an advocacy group of Florida winter vegetable farmers, led the coalition of over 200 grassroots farm organizations, consumer and public interest groups across the nation to win this hard-fought issue.

"While much of the farm bill is oriented toward agribusiness sectors producing for export, Florida vegetable farmers are focused on providing a safe, quality product to the American consumer. In the present free trade environment, the national labeling law will help Florida winter vegetable farmers and all farmers of America compete with foreign products which may not meet the environmental and labor standards of U.S. growers," according to Rodriguez, who initially recommended the Florida law which has been in force and appreciated by consumers since 1979.

Based on Florida's experience, Senator Bob Graham and others have worked for a national labeling law, but in past years the House of Representatives has blocked the measure. This year Congresswoman Mary Bono of California in a late night maneuver succeeded in passing a floor amendment to the farm bill. In 1998 she took up the cause of country-of-origin labeling that her late husband Sonny Bono had championed as a California congressman. The House vote on the Bono amendment was 296-121, thanks to a bipartisan group of consumer advocates, including most every woman in Congress.

Florida Farmers, Inc. commended Governor Jeb Bush and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson for their efforts working with the Florida congressional delegation in the last few days of the farm bill conference to keep country-of-origin labeling in the final conference report.

"We applaud the President's action today. Our grassroots effort has overcome the well-financed corporate food chain lobby to win the right to know and choose the place of origin of our food." said Paul DiMare of Homestead, Chairman of FFI. "Country-of-origin labeling helps American consumers and those American farmers who provide food for American consumers. "