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FTC proposes new beef labeling rule

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The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) Labeling Committee Co-chair Danni Beer and Director of Policy and Outreach Lia Biondo discussed “Made in the U.S.A.” product claims in a recent webinar.  After years of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) policy and debate, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to address claimed products that don’t meet “Made in the U.S.A.” requirements. 

COOL history

“COOL was enacted in the 2002 Farm Bill, amending the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946,” Beer explained. “It required retailers to notify consumers of the country of origin through a label, but it didn’t say how to do it.” 

Following the 2002 Farm Bill, the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA) worked to write COOL regulations. Finally, in 2009, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) published the final COOL rule to go into effect March 2009, according to Beer. 

“However, on June 5, 2009, Canada pulled consultations with the U.S. to resolve COOL disputes,” Beer continued. “In October of 2009, Canada requested the World Trade Organization (WTO) hold a dispute panel over the complaint and Mexico followed two days later.” 

The WTO concluded COOL requirements were inconsistent and discriminatory against foreign livestock. Although the U.S. appealed the decision, the earlier ruling was upheld. 

“So the USDA amended COOL, which was again challenged by Canada and Mexico,” Beer said. “In 2015, the WTO appellate body reconfirmed the decision against COOL, and Canada and Mexico were granted approval to move forward with retaliatory tariffs against the United States.” 

As a result of the WTO ruling, Congress made the decision to repeal the COOL law as part of the Omnibus Budget Bill in 2015, withdrawing COOL requirements on meat packaging. 

“A voluntary program for American meat products born, raised and processed in the United States was created,” noted Beer. “We are trying to get back to that today with U.S. beef.” 

Proposed rule

The proposed FTC rule looks to strengthen “Made in the U.S.A.” labeling requirements by reserving the label only for producers in which the final assembly of processing of the product occurs in the United States, all significant processing occurs in the United States, and all, or virtually all, ingredients are made and specifically, sourced in the United States. 

“In response to petitions submitted by USCA, the American Grassfed Association and the Organization for Competitive Markets, FTC opened a comment period on the ‘Product of the U.S.A.’ claims,” said Beer. “USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) noted the loophole does exist.” 

“The FTC has determined a voluntary U.S. meat product origin labeling policy focusing on where the product is made, where the livestock are slaughtered and processed, without regard to where the source animals were born,” said Biondo. “FTC wants to ensure only products made in the U.S.A. bear that label, and USDA FSIS currently states a foreign beef product may enter the U.S. and be subject to minor processing for it to be considered American made.” 

Both Beer and Biondo acknowledged the conflicting messages between the two agencies, although USDA has seen the USCA petition and agreed some changes should be made to the rule, according to Biondo. USCA shared the current beef labeling structure would not meet the FTC’s requirements for product to earn the “Made in the U.S.A.” label.

Averi Hales is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to roundup@wylr.net.

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