US food firms and meat processors have agreed to participate in a voluntary country-of-origin labelling programme if Congress repeals the proposed labelling law.

Congress in considering a two-year delay to the law that requires mandatory country-of-origin labelling on meat, seafood, fruit and vegetables from 30 September.

The US Department of Agriculture has already set up a voluntary labelling programme, but many firms have not joined up.

"The current law is so burdensome that no one wanted, even on a voluntary basis, to try to implement it in its current form," Tim Hammonds, president of the Food Marketing Institute, was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Industry groups are expected to hold a meeting on the issue soon and are hoping to finalise a market-driven voluntary labelling programme by the spring. However, if the law is repealed, Hammonds said the industry would immediately set a deadline for the implementation of its own programme, reported Reuters.

"There is widespread agreement that the mandatory program is too costly and unworkable in the real world," said Tom Stenzel, president of the United Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Association.

"What is needed is an industry-driven framework for providing country-of-origin information that is market-driven and does not increase the cost of food," he added.