Product of the USA: Changing labels for consumers
On July 1, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced plans to fully review the “Product of the USA” label. This announcement came shortly after the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) filed a petition to the USDA to eliminate the use of the controversy label.
NCBA’s Vice Chair of International Trade Jaclyn Wilson joined the Beltway Beef podcast on July 2 to share more about the organization’s outlook on beef labeling.
Addressing the problem
When asked about the concerns consumers have regarding beef products, Wilson says, “It’s just the labeling.”
Elaborating on her bold statement, Wilson explains, “When a consumer goes to the grocery store right now, people are interested in where their food comes from.”
With so many consumers wanting to know where their beef product was raised, being able to share accurate information with them helps build credibility. However, the issue lies in the current “Product of the USA” label placed on beef products.
Wilson shares, “With the ‘Product of the USA’, we were having cattle that were imported and were either minimally processed or repackaged at USDA facilities and they were able to get that label.”
Concerned about the negative implications the label has towards consumers, Wilson continues, “When a consumer reads the ‘Product of the USA’ label, they automatically assume the label is from cattle that are born, raised and harvested in the U.S. and this was not the case.”
Wanting to fix this problem, Wilson recognizes transparency between producers and consumers is best.
“By working on this label change, I think it is a great way to show our consumers that we are committed to making sure they have the information on where their product comes from.”
NCBA’s past contribution
While NCBA’s petition to USDA is in the beginning stages, the trade, marketing and lobbying group is not new to the labeling issue.
“There were some concerns about misinformation out there in terms of what the consumers were understanding,” continues Wilson.
In response, the NCBA International Trade Committee put together a working group to fight to make beef labeling more consumer friendly.
“They understand there might be some concerns about how things are currently labeled and this was something the committee worked hard and diligently on,” says Wilson. “They took the issue forward to the rest of the committee. They were approved to go ahead and work on the petition on the NCBA’s behalf.”
Wilson, excited about how well NCBA and USDA are working together on this issue, shares, “I think that was a great testament to what producers out in the country wanted, as well as being able to carry this action through in a way that doesn’t include lawsuits.”
With a possible big change in the beef processing industry in the near future, new programs have been started to help beef producers sell their products.
Within the highlighted petition, NCBA outlined steps to work with USDA and producers to use Processed Verified Program (PVP) labels to verify source origins.
“If producers want to take the time and energy to put the resources they have into verifying where their product comes from, it is great,” Wilson continues. “There are consumers who want to know exactly where their food comes from, and if producers are willing to put in the work, I think they can be rewarded on the financial level.”
Wilson has always wanted to be upfront with her consumers despite the struggles the industry faces regarding labeling products.
“One of the main parts is if a consumer comes up to us and says ‘Can you verify that this is your product?’ It is challenging. I can say it comes from my ranch and I raised it, but can I prove it?” Wilson says.
To address this challenge, Wilson implemented PVP into her family’s fifth generation cattle operation. Following the programs guidelines, the Wilson family invested time, energy and money into the new labeling opportunity.
“We are trying to prove to our consumers that with verification, we are putting in the time and energy on a volunteer basis,” Wilson says, summarizing their experience. “For us, it has been worth it to be able to say we can tell you where our beef comes from and back it up.”
Optimistic, Wilson shares her thoughts on the future of the beef industry, concluding, “As long as we continue to work together as an industry and find solutions to these cloudy or grey areas, I think the beef industry can definitely continue to move forward.”
Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.