USDA’s proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means appears to have collected a lot of support.

The recent March through June public comment period has resulted in 3,358 individual filings with support for the rule being dominant.

Posted last March, the proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry, and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. 

“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,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said when posting the rule for comments. “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.”

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 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 seen 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.

Most recently, Farm Action, the Rural Coalition, and the American Grassfed Association issued a joint public comment in support of a proposed rule from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The three agricultural organizations said they favor the use of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label for meat products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. 

Current policy allows the “Product of U.S.A.” label to be used on imported meat if it merely passes through a USDA-inspected plant. Farm Action’s co-founders and the American Grassfed Association filed a petition calling for reforms to this labeling system in 2018, prompting USDA to open a public comment period. FSIS referenced that petition in its announcement of the survey that preceded this proposed rule.

The comment they’ve submitted sets forth the legal foundations of the proposed rule and enumerates the benefits it would achieve on behalf of American farmers and consumers. 

Reviewing decades of research into consumer attitudes toward food labels, the comment revealed that the current label use deceives consumers, whereas the proposed rule would bring the “Product of U.S.A.” label into alignment with what consumers already believe it means.

With the proposed rule, FSIS “would take a significant step toward giving consumers the information about where their food comes from that, in survey after survey, consumers have indicated they want to have,” the comment said.

USDA said the benefits of the proposed rule are particularly compelling for U.S.-based farmers. For decades, “cheap imports masquerading as domestic products” have “[undermined] the competitive position of independent ranchers and processors” and denied them market opportunities. 

“The Proposed Rule would enable consumers to confidently locate meat products derived from animals bred and raised by American ranchers, slaughtered in American processing facilities, and prepared for wholesale distribution and retail consumption by American workers.”

USDA further said that by allowing consumers to act on their well-documented preference for domestic products, the resulting shift in consumer spending “could substantially enhance market opportunities for independent ranchers and processors.”

“Commenters urged FSIS to move decisively and issue a strong final rule establishing that meat, poultry, egg, and other FSIS-regulated products must be derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States to bear a ‘Product of U.S.A.’ label,” the comment concluded. 

(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)