USDA announces new labeling rule
On March 6, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the proposal of a new rule regarding “Product of USA” labeling for meat, poultry and eggs.
Under the proposed rule, voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claims will be allowed only on meat, poultry and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S.
Additionally, the label would continue to be voluntary and would remain eligible for generic label approval, meaning it wouldn’t need to be preapproved by USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) before being used on regulated products.
However, it would still require supporting documentation to be on file for agency inspection personnel to verify, according to USDA.
The proposed rule would also allow other voluntary U.S. origin claims, including a description on the package of all preparation and processing steps occurring in the U.S., seen on meat, poultry and egg products sold in the marketplace.
“Today’s announcement delivers on one of the key actions in President Biden’s executive order on promoting competition in the American economy and a commitment made in the Biden-Harris administration’s action plan for a fairer, more competitive and more resilient meat and poultry supply chain,” stated Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.
He further noted increased clarity and transparency provided by this proposed change will prevent consumer confusion and help ensure the public understands where their food comes from.
Vilsack noted the proposed rule comes in response to a comprehensive review published in July of 2021.
The review included a nationwide survey, which showed consumers believe the “Product of USA” label means products came from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S. and is therefore misleading.
“American consumers expect when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” Vilsack said. “These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”
According to a March 6 press release, published by Drovers, the proposed rule uses the same standard as the mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) statute, which finalized labeling standards for meat by USDA in 2009.
However, in 2015 Congress repealed MCOOL after the World Trade Organization blocked implementation because Canada and Mexico challenged the statute as a nontariff trade barrier.
Several agricultural organizations have spoken out to offer their support and opposition of the proposed rule.
The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) thanked the Biden administration in a March 6 press release for “finally closing the loophole allowing meat from other countries to be labeled ‘Product of the USA.’”
“If it says, ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil,” said USCA President Justin Tupper. “Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from.”
“This rule is about truth in labeling, plain and simple,” agreed National Farmers Union President Rob Larew. “For too long, family farmers and ranchers have been competing in a market where imported products were fraudulently labeled as a product of the U.S. Thank you Secretary Vilsack and USDA for bringing more fairness to farmers and ranchers across the country.”
Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action, commented, “Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair. After a five-year fight, we’re pleased to see 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,” added Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. “We are pleased to have the USDA act on the ‘Product of USA’ as promised in the executive order issued by President Biden in July 2021.”
“This proposed rulemaking change will help American grassfed farmers not be undercut by mislabeled meat coming from offshore. We will continue to work with Farm Action to make meat labels truthful,” she concluded.
On the other hand, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and North American Meat Institute (NAMI) have expressed their frustration and opposition to the announcement.
On March 6, NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus made the statement, “There is no question the current ‘Product of USA’ label for beef is flawed, and it undercuts the ability of U.S. cattle producers to differentiate U.S. beef in the marketplace. For the past few years, NCBA’s grassroots-driven efforts have focused on addressing problems with the existing label, and we will continue working to find a voluntary, trade-compliant solution to promote product differentiation and deliver profitable solutions for U.S. cattle producers.”
“Simply adding born, raised and harvested requirements to an already broken label will fail to deliver additional value to cattle producers, and it will undercut true voluntary, market-driven labels benefiting cattle producers. We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label,” he added.
NAMI President and Chief Executive Officer Julie Anna Potts said, “Unfortunately, this proposed rule is problematic for many reasons. USDA should have considered more than public sentiment on an issue impacting international trade.”
“Our members make considerable investments to produce beef, pork, lamb, veal and poultry products in American facilities, employing hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. and with processes overseen by USDA inspectors. This food should be allowed to be labeled a ‘Product of the USA,’” she continued.
In addition to increasing the price of meat and poultry and other goods for consumers, NAMI also believes the proposed rule will create conflict with the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Tariff Act and place additional duties on FSIS, which is already overburdened and understaffed.
“It is also a significant change from FSIS’s previously stated intention provided just three years ago when the agency denied a USCA petition on the label and said it planned to initiate rulemaking to “limit ‘Product of USA’ and certain other voluntary U.S. origin statements to meat products derived from livestock slaughtered and processed in the U.S.,” noted NAMI.
Hannah Bugas is the managing editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.