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Guest Opinions: Beware of Misleading Labels

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

Product of USA? Grassfed? Where does beef  come from? 

Society needs to beware of misleading “Product of USA” labels on supermarket beef because looks can be deceiving. 

Consumers buying a package of steaks at the supermarket marked “Product of USA” likely believe the label means it was raised on an American ranch. Maybe it’s also marked “Grass Fed,” and they imagine a grassy hillside somewhere in the U.S., dotted with healthy cattle. 

They assume they know where their family’s food comes from. 

The problem is the beef in the package labeled with a big USA sticker might actually have come from Brazil, Namibia or Mexico. Thanks to lobbying efforts by powerful meatpackers, such as JBS, Tyson and Cargill, current law allows use of the “Product of USA” label even when the beef was born, raised and processed in a foreign country – as long as the meat undergoes minimal processing or repackaging as soon as it enters the U.S.

These labeling loopholes prevent consumers from knowing where the beef they feed their families is coming from and whether or not their dollars are supporting American ranchers. Current laws also deprive livestock producers from being able to differentiate their beef from imported product.  

No matter how diligent a rancher is in producing the healthiest beef on the market,  without accurate labeling laws, once it leaves the ranch, there’s no way for consumers know they are purchasing genuine American beef. 

Meatpackers complain it is too costly and difficult to keep domestic beef sorted from imported beef, an incredulous claim when accurate country of origin labeling (COOL) is required on other meats and hundreds of other food items. 

The more salient reason behind the packers’ position is they are worried about their profits because surveys show if labeling is accurate, most consumers will choose to purchase genuine American beef.  

Wyoming ranchers have joined others across the country in a fight for accurate mandatory COOL for beef. Mandatory is necessary because it has been shown if labeling is voluntary for processors and retailers, they simply won’t bother. Why would they?

Good COOL bills which would allow “Product of USA” labeling only on beef born, raised and processed in the U.S. are being sponsored by our representatives in Washington, D.C. These include Sen. Cynthia Lummis’ (R-WY) American Beef Labeling Act and Congresswoman Harriet Hageman’s (R-WY) Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act.  

The opportunity to pass mandatory COOL is at an all-time high. However, we are up against powerful industry lobbyists in the U.S. 

Ranchers and supporting organizations are fighting. Wyoming’s lawmakers are fighting. But, we need American consumers, who have the right to know where their beef is coming from, to join this fight. 

Consumers have a voice. If every beef-eating American called, e-mailed or visited their elected officials demanding their support of accurate COOL bills for beef, it would soon become law, and those stickers on the packages would actually mean something. 

We need to tell our congressional delegation we want to know where our food really comes from. Thank Lummis and Hageman for sponsoring useful legislation to support American ranchers and ask their offices how to spread the word to other congressional offices. Write letters to the editor and demand that you, as a consumer, are truthfully informed about the source of your food.  

You deserve to know the truth.

Joyce Evans is a fourth generation rancher from Fort Laramie and a board member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.

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