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USDA proposes rule on 'Made in the USA' meat labeling

Staff and wire report

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released Monday a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means.

The proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.

The proposed rule has drawn some praise.

“Montana ranchers produce the best beef in the world, and American families should have the right to know when their food is actually a ‘Product of the USA,’ or the product of a broken food labeling system,” U.S. Sen. Jon Tester said in a statement following the announcement. “The USDA’s proposed rule is a step in the right direction for consumers and producers, but Montanans know that half-measures won’t give folks needed certainty at the meat counter. Montana’s ranchers hold their beef to the highest possible standard, and after yet another late-reported BSE case in Brazil, folks in the Treasure State need Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling to ensure transparency and fairness in the market for producers and consumers alike.”

Montana Farmers Union also praised the rule.

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for the first time announced the proposed rule during NFU’s 121st Anniversary Convention, to a standing ovation from convention attendees.

“Once again President Biden has demonstrated the leadership and the strength to stand up for the family farmer and force the cooperate monopolies to play fairly and honestly by properly labeling our beef and pork so that consumers will now have confidence in knowing meat with the ‘Product of USA’ label will be product that was born, raised and processed in the USA,” Montana Farmers Union President Walter Schweitzer said said in a release.

The release added that the proposed rule will close loopholes that allow meat from imported animals to be labeled as “Product of the USA”

“For too long, American family farmers and ranchers have been competing in a market where imported products were fraudulently labeled as a product of the United States. Thank you, Secretary Vilsack and the USDA, for bringing more fairness for farmers and ranchers across the country,” NFU President Rob Larew said.

As the Senate’s only working farmer, Tester’s release said, the senator has been Montana’s leader on reinstating Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, most recently introducing his bipartisan American Beef Labeling Act with Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., in January, which would ensure that all beef raised in the United States is labeled as a product of the USA. Additionally, last month Tester introduced bipartisan legislation with Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D., to suspend Brazilian beef imports to the United States until experts can conduct a systemic review of the commodity’s impacts on food safety and animal health.

Country of Origin Labeling had been required by the 2002 U.S Farm Bill and was implemented in 2008, but the World Trade Organization a decade later declared the labeling discriminated against livestock from other countries’ — Canada and Mexico had asked for a ruling — and allowed them to set retaliatory tariffs. In 2016, the labeling requirements were lifted for Beef and Pork Muscle Cuts, Ground Beef, and Ground Pork

Monday’s announcement delivers on one of the key actions in President Joe 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, the USDA release announcing the rule said. The increased clarity and transparency provided by this proposed change would prevent consumer confusion and help ensure that consumers understand where their food comes from.

“American consumers expect that when they buy a meat product at the grocery store, the claims they see on the label mean what they say,” Vilsack said in the release. “These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA’s commitment to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”

USDA’s proposed rulemaking is supported by petitions, thousands of comments from stakeholders, and data. In July 2021, USDA initiated a comprehensive review to understand what the “Product of USA” claim means to consumers and inform planned rulemaking to define the requirements for making such a claim. 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.

USDA’s comprehensive review shows there is a clear need to revise the current “Product of USA” label claim so that it more accurately conveys U.S. origin information.

Under the proposed rule, the “Product of USA” label claim would continue to be voluntary. It would also remain eligible for generic label approval, meaning it would not need to be pre-approved by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service before it could be used on regulated product, but would require supporting documentation to be on file for agency inspection personnel to verify. The rulemaking also proposes to allow other voluntary U.S. origin claims seen on meat, poultry and egg products sold in the marketplace. These claims would need to include a description on the package of all preparation and processing steps that occurred in the United States upon which the claim is made.

USDA encourages stakeholders, both domestic and international, to comment on the proposed rule. The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register. Public comments can be submitted at http://www.regulations.gov .

 

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