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Changes to “Product of USA” Labeling: The End of an Era of Consumer Deception

A step in the right direction for meat labeling laws and a major win for consumers – ”Product of USA” will now mean the animal was born, raised, and harvested in the USA (believe it or not, livestock raised in foreign countries could be labeled as Product of the USA previously). On March 11, 2024 the USDA issued a final rule stating that only meat from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States is eligible for such “Made in USA” labels. The claim remains voluntary and requires packers using the label to comply by 2026. 

Since the repeal of mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef and pork in 2016 (the requirement remains in place for chicken, lamb, and goat), the USDA has allowed foreign meatpackers to mislabel meat that was produced exclusively from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in a foreign country with a “Product of the USA'' label so long as the foreign meat was ‘minimally processed’ in the United States. For example, a meatpacker needed only to unwrap and rewrap an exclusively foreign beef product in a U.S. processing plant to be eligible for the U.S. label. This heavily exploited loophole allowed multinational corporations to mislead consumers by passing off their product as a higher-quality meat raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers. Americans deserve to know the source of their food, and the majority of people wouldn’t think to further question the origin after seeing “Product of the USA” on the label. 

“We welcome the end of this era of consumer deception,” said the CEO of R-CALF USA Bill Bullard. “No longer will multinational meatpackers be allowed to trick consumers into believing that foreign beef was produced by United States cattle farmers and ranchers.”

While this is undoubtedly a victory for American consumers, farmers, and ranchers, congress needs to reinstate mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) to require all beef and pork sold in grocery stores to transparently state where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered. Only then will consumers be informed which country produced their meat, and which country’s food safety requirements it was produced under. 

When it comes to imported meat, quality and safety concerns aren’t without merit – in June 2017, the USDA banned imports of Brazilian processed beef after 11% of beef tested was rejected due to “public health concerns, sanitary conditions, and animal health issues.” Typically, no more than 1% of beef is rejected at U.S. points of entry. The USDA lifted the ban in 2020, and reported record imports of Brazilian beef, a 500% increase the two years following the lift of the ban. In 2021, China temporarily suspended Brazilian beef imports for a few months due to animal welfare concerns. Some of this Brazilian beef banned from China was redirected to the United States.

It’s been a long fight and there’s more work to be done, but we’re pleased to see progress toward consumer transparency so those that wish to support American farmers and ranchers can be confident in their decisions at the grocery store. For those that wish to take it a step further and know your farmer, we welcome you to shop grassfed and pasture raised meats at 1915Farm.com or visit EatWild.com to find a farmer near you.

Sources: R-CALF USA, USDA.gov, FarmPolicyNews, The Big Meat Dilemma: Part 6

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