Prepared Foods of March 28, 2005 enewsletter

As of March 28, 2005, U.S. retailers must provide country-of-origin labels for the seafood they sell, the federal government said.

Under a three-year-old law, shoppers must be told the origin of fish and shellfish offered for sale and whether they were raised on a farm or caught in the wild.

Vendors can put the information on each package or on signs in their display cases.

Proponents say the labels will satisfy a basic "right to know" for consumers and distinguish U.S. products from foreign competitors on the grocery shelf. The food industry fears it will be burdened by a mountain of costly paperwork to prove the source of seafood.

The 2002 labeling law initially called on the Agriculture Department to issue rules for mandatory country-of-origin labels on red meat, seafood, fruits, vegetables and peanuts by September 30, 2004. Congress has delayed the requirement for two years for all of the products except for seafood.

When the Agriculture Department issued the seafood rules in October, it gave the industry six months to get ready for the new system and to clear out unlabeled inventory.