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USDA promises fix for ‘Product of USA’ meat labeling

USDA Product of USA meat label on ribeye steaks
LABEL FIX COMING: USDA undertaking rulemaking to address mislabeling of meat with Product of USA label if foreign meat is used.
Current Product of the USA label allowed to be applied to foreign meat which confuses consumers and disadvantages producers.

The Federal Trade Commission finalized a rule tightening the use of the “Made in the USA” label. Although the rule does not require specific actions be taken regarding beef labeling, in conjunction with this rule, USDA announced a top-to-bottom review of the “Product of the USA” label.

USDA announced last year its intention to conduct its own rulemaking to address the concern that the voluntary "Product of USA" label may confuse consumers about the origin of Food Safety and Inspection Service regulated products.

“After considering the many comments received by the FTC and USDA on this issue, we are initiating a top-to-bottom review of the 'Product of USA' label that will, among other things, help us to determine what that label means to consumers,” Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack says. “We believe this review will enable our upcoming rulemaking on the topic, announced in the Biden-Harris Administration’s Spring Regulatory Agenda, to be comprehensive, effective and lasting.”

Vilsack adds American consumers depend upon accurate, transparent labels to obtain important information about the food they consume. American farmers and ranchers depend upon those same labels to convey information about their products that consumers value and demand.

“We have taken note of the many comments submitted to USDA and the FTC regarding meat labeling and understand that the current 'Product of USA' label on meat products may no longer effectively serve either of those purposes, to the detriment of consumers, producers and fair and competitive markets,” Vilsack says.

He adds that he is committed to ensuring that the "Product of USA" label reflects what a plain understanding of those terms means to U.S. consumers.

“Throughout the rulemaking process, we will be asking questions, collecting data and requesting comments,” Vilsack says. “And we will be considering all ideas suggested by the whole range of stakeholders, including our trading partners with whom we will engage to ensure that this labeling initiative is implemented in a way that fulfills our commitment  to working cooperatively with our trade partners and meeting our international trade obligations.”

Industry welcomes action

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association recently filed a petition with FSIS to eliminate the use of the '"Product of the USA" label and other broad U.S. origin labeling claims for beef products.

"The 'Product of the USA' label is not subject to source verification, is not tied to any kind of food safety standard and is applied by packers and retailers in a manner that does not deliver value back to the cattle producer. This label not only misleads consumers, it is yet another barrier to producers gaining leverage and distinguishing their product in the marketplace," says NCBA President Jerry Bohn. "NCBA members have voiced concerns about the potentially misleading use of the label, and we thank USDA for responding to those concerns and recognizing that non-source verified labels are a disservice to producers and consumers alike.”

Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., welcomed the action, saying, “For years, we’ve called on the USDA to take action to stop foreign beef from receiving the ‘Product of the USA’ label. American consumers are being misled when the ‘Product of the USA’ label is allowed to be applied to foreign beef.”

Rounds introduced legislation which would outlaw foreign beef from being labeled as a “Product of the USA” and make certain that label only goes on beef and beef products exclusively derived from animals born, raised and slaughtered here in the United States.

“American ranchers are faced with an unfair disadvantage in the marketplace, as lower quality foreign beef can falsely bear the ‘Product of the USA’ label. This undermines the high-quality of USA-raised beef and needs to be stopped. Only products born, raised and slaughtered in the United States should receive the ‘Product of the USA’ label,” Rounds says.

National Farmers Union President Rob Larew says he was encouraged by the announcement and urged USDA to limit "Product of the USA" labels strictly to meat products that have never spent time outside the country.

“American consumers deserve to know where their meat comes from. Whether they want to keep their food dollar in their community, limit their food miles or avoid unsustainable or unethical practices, there are many reasons why someone would want to know what country their meat was raised in. But as things stand, there’s no way to determine the origin of beef and pork since the wildly deceptive 'Product of the USA' label can appear on meat that spent its entire life in another country,” he says.

Larew says NFU sincerely hope the agency will limit the claim exclusively to meat born, raised, slaughtered, and processed domestically, offering greater transparency to consumers and financial opportunities to American farmers and ranchers.

USDA authority

USDA's announcement came after the FTC held a public hearing on FTC-2020-0056, Made in USA Rulemaking, Matter No. P074204. The Commission voted 3-2 in favor of the final rule, to take effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. 

The new rule will strengthen FTC’s authority to enforce “Made in USA” labels. NCBA submitted comments on the proposed rule in 2020. NCBA's comments reminded the FTC that USDA has primary jurisdiction over all meat food product oversight activities, including the approval and verification of geographic and origin labeling claims. 

While the FTC and USDA announcements may have similarities, NCBA believes that USDA is the best-equipped agency to properly oversee beef labeling and we support USDA's continued jurisdiction over labeling of meat food products.

NCBA says its grassroots policy supports a more appropriate generic label, such as “Processed in the USA." In addition, NCBA stands ready to work with USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to proactively educate cattle producers, processors and retailers about the various opportunities that exist to develop voluntary, verifiable origin marketing claims that deliver tangible benefits to cattle producers without violating rules of trade.

 

 

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