Making an election-year promise that does not have to become a reality until well after the voting isn’t new.  Since Congress surrendered Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling in a trade war with Canada and Mexico, American consumers have wanted a reliable replacement.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has promised a new system, but it won’t exist for a couple more years. He rolled it out as a new rule on March 11 for labeling meat, poultry, and egg products that, if born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the U.S., may be labeled as a “Product of the USA.”

Since Congress’s 2015 repeal of Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), the meat industry has deceptively been allowed to label imported meat repackaged in the U.S. as a “Product of USA.”

“This final rule will ensure that when consumers see ‘Product of USA, ’ they can trust the label’s authenticity and know that every step involved, from birth to processing, was done here in America,” Vilsack said.

 “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” labeling will continue to be voluntary under the new rule. 

Without pre-approval by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, generic label approval will be required. Also, it continues to be available with the requirement that the establishment maintain documentation on file to support the claim. 

The final rule is being published in the Federal Register.

The promises to come, however, will not be implemented by USDA until Jan. 1, 2026, long after the 2024 general election.

The new system promises to plug the loophole that allowed the meat industry to fool consumers, but it will remain voluntary.

Vilsack said implementation won’t occur for almost two years, so food companies already labeled products won’t suffer economic harm in the transition.

One agriculture expert said the lengthy implementation period raises the possibility that groups opposed to the rule may try to stop it before it starts.

The National Farmers Union, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, the North American Meat Institute(NAMI), and the Organization for Competitive Markets supported the new rule.

“USDA made some commonsense changes to address some of our concerns, NAMI’s statement said. “We appreciate the adherence to the uniform compliance date for implementation and will continue to support our members in complying with labeling regulations.”

Competitive Markets Action President Marty Irby said, “The Biden administration finally got something right.”

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