Better beef labeling may not be imminent, but it may be bubbling to the top again.
This week brought a new round of proposals designed to spur discussion on the topic, including reviving a more meaningful country of origin labeling for beef.
USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) currently does not require that beef be born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. to carry a “Product of the U.S.A.” label.
The World Trade Organization ruled against the United States when it had the tougher standard, and Congress repealed it to avoid punishing tariff penalties.
That created a loophole that allows beef from livestock born and raised in foreign countries to be labeled “Product of the U.S.A.” as long as the beef undergoes additional processing at a processing plant in the U.S.
South Dakota’s Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune want to close that loophole. They are trying to pass the “U.S. Beef Integrity Act” to make certain that the “Product of the U.S.A.” label only goes to beef and beef products exclusively derived from one or more animals born, raised and slaughtered in the United States.
“Today’s beef labeling rules are misleading and allow beef and beef products from cattle born, raised and slaughtered outside of the U.S. to be labeled as U.S. beef,” Rounds said. “This must be fixed for both consumers and our hardworking producers.”
“For South Dakota ranchers, ‘Product of the U.S.A’ is far more than a label. It’s a sense of pride, and it represents a way of life,” said Thune. “This legislation is straightforward and common sense, two qualities that are often lacking in Washington and are made up for by South Dakotans and their hardworking spirit. It’s with our ranchers and agriculture community in mind that I’m proud to support this bill to give consumers more accurate information about what’s on the grocery store shelf and help showcase America’s beef products – the best in the world – as clearly and as proudly as possible.”
While opting for a congressional resolution on the country of origin labeling (COOL), Montana’s Democrat Senator Jon Tester is on the same track as the two South Dakota Republicans.
Tester introduced a resolution supporting the reestablishing of a COOL program. The United States Cattlemen’s Association said Tester’s resolution “puts for a firm statement of support for COOL, which was repealed in 2015.
“We’re incredibly grateful for Sen. Tester continuing to champion Truth in Labeling efforts through the introduction of this resolution,” a USCA statement said. It urged other senators to follow Tester’s lead and stand with American consumers and ranching families.
COOL reached the public stage through the 2004 and 2008 Farm Bills, but it was not fully implemented until May 2013. It was only hen that foreign labels on imported beef and pork had to be retained through the retail sale.
The Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund or R-CALF also praised the Tester resolution. “Since COOL’s repeal, consumers have been unable to differentiate foreign beef from U.S. beef and U.S. cattle producers have been unable to compete against increasing influx of foreign beef and cattle,” the R-CALF statement said.
Meanwhile, in the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressmen. Roger Marshall (R-KS) and Anthony Brindisi (D-NY) have introduced the Real MEAT (Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully) Act of 2019.
Specifically, The Real Meat Act will:
1. Codify the Definition of Beef for Labeling Purposes
• Establish a federal definition of beef that applies to food labels;
• Preserve the Congressional Intent of the Beef Promotion and Research Act;
2. Reinforce Existing Misbranding Provisions to Eliminate Consumer Confusion
• FDA has misbranding provisions for false or misleading labels;
• Prevent further consumer confusion with alternative protein products;
• Clarify the imitation nature of these alternative protein products;
3.Enhance the Federal Government’s Ability to Enforce the Law
• FDA will have to notify USDA if an imitation meat product is determined to be misbranded;
• If FDA fails to undertake enforcement within 30 days of notifying USDA, the Secretary of Agriculture is granted authority to seek enforcement action.
“Consumers should be able to rely on the information on food labels they see on the shelves to be truthful and not deceptive,” Rep. Marshall said. “For years now, alternative protein products have confused many consumers with misleading packaging and creative names for products. With this bill, consumers can be sure that the meat products they are buying are indeed real meat.”
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