The US House of Representatives has voted to stop the government requiring country of origin labelling on meat, according to the Associated Press.

Congress already had postponed the labelling from its original date of 2004 to September 2006. The House action would stop the Agriculture Department from spending money on the new requirement.
 
Western ranchers had counted on the labels to help sell their beef, Rep. Stephanie Herseth said. "Instead, the large meatpackers have rallied to kill this program because they don't want American consumers to discover how much meat in the grocery case is actually imported," Herseth said.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, a rancher, said Texas cattle producers are fighting the labels because they do not want shoppers to know that the cattlemen buy cheap Mexican calves to fatten and sell in the US.

"It's time we send a message to those who are standing in the way, and allow us the opportunity to tell the American consumer: born, raised and processed in America means something," said Rehberg.

Rehberg tried to amend the bill to let the labelling proceed as planned. The House refused on a 240-187 vote.

Rep. Bob Goodlatte, the House Agriculture Committee chairman, said the labels would do the opposite of what was intended, adding $10 per head of cattle to ranchers' costs. Industry estimates are that it could cost the industry as much as $4 bn in the first year.

"It will make our producers less competitive with foreign meat producers, not more competitive," said Goodlatte

Rep. Henry Bonilla, said labelling will raise beef prices for consumers because stores could be sued for mistakes in labelling. Goodlatte has introduced legislation to repeal the labelling mandate for meat.

Congress passed country-of-origin labelling as part of the 2002 Farm Bill. The delay applies only to meat and meat products; labels went into effect in April for fish and shellfish. The food labels apply to supermarkets and other retail stores but not to restaurants.