USDA Monday likely delighted consumers and cattlemen alike with the release of a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what that claim means.
The proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label to be used on meat, poultry, and egg products only when derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.
Monday’s announcement delivers on one of the key actions in President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said the increased clarity and transparency provided by this proposed change would prevent consumer confusion and help ensure that consumers understand where their food comes from.
“American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”
Farm and ranch groups, consumers praise new rule
Justin Tupper, president of the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, said his organization petitioned for the USDA action.
“In our 2019 petition for rulemaking to FSIS, USCA called out the practice of applying ‘Product of the USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ labeling claims on beef products that the food safety agency itself admitted could have come from other countries.
“USCA is pleased to see that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean, something we have been working to clarify since the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2015. If it says ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil. Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from, full stop.
“USCA would like to thank the Biden Administration for incorporating this goal in their Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain issued in 2022. But, we also need to recognize the relentless work by our champions in Congress, including my home-state Sen. Mike Rounds, R-SD, who sponsored the U.S.A. Beef Act would have prohibited beef from bearing the phrase “Product of U.S.A.” unless it was exclusively derived from U.S. cattle. We could not have elevated this issue without the many voices speaking up and supporting the change.
“USCA plans to submit comments supporting this proposed definition.”
Farm Action and American Grassfed Association were among the farm and ranch groups also applauding USDA’s announcement while Consumer Reports topped approvals from consumer groups.
The voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label will apply exclusively to meat, poultry, and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States.
.Current policy allows imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label provided it passes through a USDA-inspected plant. It is a heavily exploited loophole that has allowed multinational corporations to import meat, repackage it, and pass it off as a higher-quality product raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers. Monday’s announcement closes that loophole.
“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action. “After a five-year fight, we’re pleased to see the USDA stepping up to stop the cheaters picking the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
“Our petition filed in 2018 has finally been acted on,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. “We are pleased to have the USDA act on the ‘Product of U.S.A.’ as promised in the executive order issued by President Biden in July 2021. This proposed rule-making change will help American grass-fed farmers not be undercut by mislabeled meat coming from offshore. We will continue to work with Farm Action to make meat labels truthful.”
Consumer Report’s Brian Ronholm said: “Shoppers sometimes pay premium prices for products carrying the ‘Product of USA’ label and deserve to know they can depend on that claim.”
As part of its review, USDA commissioned a nationwide consumer survey. The survey revealed that the current “Product of USA” labeling claim is misleading to a majority of consumers surveyed, with a significant portion believing the claim means that the product was made from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States.
USDA’s comprehensive review shows there is a clear need to revise the current “Product of USA” label claim so that it more accurately conveys U.S. origin information.
Under the proposed rule, the “Product of USA” label claim would continue to be voluntary. It would also remain eligible for generic label approval, meaning it would not need to be pre-approved by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) before it could be used on the regulated products but would require supporting documentation to be on file for the agency inspection personnel to verify. The rulemaking also proposes to allow other voluntary U.S.-origin claims we see on meat, poultry, and egg products sold in the marketplace. These claims would need to include a description of the package of all preparation and processing steps that occurred in the United States upon which the claim is made.
USDA encourages stakeholders, both domestic and international, to comment on the proposed rule. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register. Public comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov.
This is the first major progress since Country of Origin (COOL) labeling was originally passed in the 2008 Farm Bill — and the first step toward truth in labeling since the Mandatory COOL program’s repeal in 2015.
Congress repealed MCool after the World Trade Organization (WTO) said it was a non-tariff trade barrier and would allow Canada and Mexico to collect billions from U.S. concerns.
Mandatory COOL remains the U.S. cattle industry’s primary goal and the wishes of the majority of cattle producers and consumers. The American Beef Labeling Act reinstates mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef.
Specifically, the bill requires the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to develop a means of reinstating the requirements that comply with the rules of the World Trade Organization.
The USTR and the Department of Agriculture must implement the means within one year.
The clear definition from the USDA is the first step to securing truthful and accurate labels.
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