USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service admitted Thursday it may be misleading consumers about where their meat comes from. The admission came in response to a petition filed by the United States Cattlemen’s Association about accurate labeling.

“After considering the supporting information included in the petition, along with the supporting public comments, FSIS has concluded that permitting imported meat products that are further processed in a federally-inspected establishment to be labeled ‘Product of USA’ may be misleading to consumers and may not meet consumer expectations of what ‘Product of USA’ signifies. FSIS also agrees that to address these issues, the agency needs to establish clear parameters that prescribe which meat product may voluntarily be labeled with U.S. origin statements, such as ‘Product of USA’ or ‘Made in the USA.’ “

The USCA’s petition requested FSIS to amend the agency’s Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book to provide that any beef labeled as “Made in the USA”, “Product of the USA”, “USA Beef”, or in any other manner that suggests that the origin is the United States be derived from cattle that have been born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S. 

But FSIS says it might be in a quandary.

“In addition, as part of its review, FSIS also considered the comments that did not support the petition. After considering these comments, FSIS has concluded that that the concerns expressed about measures that could potentially affect the integrated livestock supply chains between the United States and Canada, as well as the integrated cattle supply chain between the United States and Mexico, have merit,” the FSIS response continues.

“As noted in the petition and the public comments, Canada exports a significant number of live cattle, hogs, sheep, and goats to the United States every year for slaughter and processing, and Mexico exports a large number of cattle to the United States to be fed, slaughtered, and processed. Thus, many official U.S. slaughter and processing establishments use Canadian and Mexican cattle as the source animals for their meat and meat products.”

After receiving the response to their petition, USCA leaders said the organization appreciates FSIS for responding to and acknowledging many points within the petition.

 “Specifically, FSIS acknowledged USCA’s blueprint in regards to addressing the loopholes that exist within the current labeling system, and that the current consumer confusion in the marketplace is a direct result of these inaccurate labels,” the statement said. “However, as a part of the open rulemaking process, FSIS considered all of the comments submitted in response to USCA’s petition. A number of those comments were from industry and corporations who have long opposed accurate labeling in regards to ‘U.S. Beef’, and that is reflected in FSIS’s comments.”

In response to the comments in opposition to USCA’s petition, FSIS will now consider a second rulemaking that will:

“. . . limit “Product of USA” and certain other voluntary U.S. origin statements to the labeling of meat products from livestock that were slaughtered and processed in the United States. The Agency has determined that a voluntary U.S. meat product origin labeling policy that focusses on where the product is made, i.e., where the livestock are slaughtered and processed, without regard to where the source animals were born, may more accurately reflect what ‘origin’ means with respect to meat products processed in the United States and will thus result in labels that are truthful and not misleading.”

Responding to the USCA petition, FSIS has acknowledged the problem of current consumer confusion in the marketplace.

The USCA leaders say Congress needs to step in to resolve the labeling debate.  

Cattlemen fear the second round of rulemaking will effectively take producers out of the equation when it comes to the labeling of U.S. beef products as FSIS will look to redefine the term “origin,” to instead refer to packing houses or processing facilities, rather than ranches of origin. 

“The true origin of any beef product is with the producer, and USCA will continue to work with Congress on a path forward to ensure this information is acknowledged and communicated effectively to the consumer,” it says.

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