Ag Informer – USDA Seeks to Limit Use of ‘Product of USA’

The Agriculture Department on Monday issued a proposed new regulation restricting “Product of the USA” labels on meat, poultry and eggs to animals born and raised in the U.S. The proposal would effectively close a labeling loophole that allows products to use such a label for beef and pork that is simply repackaged in the U.S.

President Joe Biden called for a reassessment of the labeling regulations as part of a 2021 executive order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy, and a commitment made in the Administration’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain.

The White House says the increased clarity and transparency provided by this proposed change will prevent consumer confusion and help ensure that consumers understand where their food comes from.

The present labeling standard has been in effect since congress voted in December 2015 to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling laws for beef and pork. That action was forced by Canada and Mexico when the two countries challenged the COOL laws as a trade restriction before the World Trade Organization.

As part of its review, USDA commissioned a nationwide consumer survey. The survey revealed that the current “Product of USA” labeling claim is misleading to a majority of consumers surveyed, with a significant portion believing the claim means that the product was made from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.

Regarding the new proposal, Vilsack does not think it would run afoul of trade rules because the labels are voluntary, nor will it impose undue burdens on meatpackers.

About 12% of all meat, poultry and egg products sold in the US currently claim US origin on their labels, the agriculture department estimates.

U.S. Cattlemen’s Association president Justin Tupper said in a statement his group is “thrilled that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean. If it says, ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil.”

However, the North American Meat Institute said the new regulations for meat products are again likely to result in trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico costing American consumers and businesses billions of dollars.

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus released the following statement:

“There is no question that 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 that promotes product differentiation and delivers profitable solutions and 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 that benefit cattle producers. We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label.”

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