A US House panel has blocked the Agriculture Department from introducing mandatory country-of-origin labels for meat.

The country-of-origin labels are currently voluntary but are scheduled to become mandatory on 30 September 2004.

The Republican-led House Appropriations subcommittee on agriculture voted to block the USDA from implementing mandatory labels for meat and meat products, by denying funding. Other products, such as peanuts and fresh fruit and vegetables, are not affected by the vote.

Subcommittee chairman and Republican Henry Bonilla said the delay would give lawmakers and the USDA time to “air out” objections to the labels by retailers, meatpackers and some livestock producers, reported Reuters.

Meanwhile, the Agriculture Committee has announced a 24 June hearing on country-of-origin labelling, which will hear from the USDA, livestock and produce group and trade groups.