By Katabella Roberts
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is considering a new rule regarding requirements on “Product of USA” labels in an effort to increase consumer understanding of what the claim actually means.
The proposed rule was announced on March 6 and would allow the voluntary label “Product of USA or “Made in the USA” 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.
Current rules for those labels allow them to be used for meat derived from animals that were born and raised in other countries and only processed in the United States. Farmers and ranchers throughout the country have argued that this left domestic producers at a disadvantage.
“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,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “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.”
Under the proposed rule, the “Product of USA” label would continue to be voluntary but would require supporting documentation to be on file so that it can be verified.
Unclear What ‘Product of USA’ Means
“The rulemaking also proposes to allow other voluntary U.S. origin claims we see on meat, poultry, and egg products sold in the marketplace,” USDA said. “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.”
The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days and any comments can be submitted online at the USDA website.
According to the department, the proposed rule is supported by petitions, thousands of comments from stakeholders, and data.
A nationwide survey (pdf) of 4,834 consumers commissioned by the USDA and conducted between July to August last year found that just 16 percent of those surveyed identified the correct definition for the “Product of USA” labeling claim, while 63 percent provided an incorrect response, and 21 percent said they did not know the meaning of the claim.
“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,” USDA said.
The latest label change was first proposed by President Joe Biden in 2021 under his Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American Economy and is part of a commitment made in the administration’s Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain.
Around 12 percent of the total beef consumed in the United States is imported from countries including Australia, Canada, and Brazil, while imports of red meat and poultry overall account for less than 6 percent. Imports of eggs, meanwhile, account for less than half of 1 percent.
Current Label System Is ‘Flawed’
Roughly 12 percent of all meat, poultry, and egg products sold in the United States are labeled as “Made in the USA,” according to USDA.
The proposed rule change comes after consumer advocates and representatives for U.S. ranchers and farmers, including the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) petitioned the USDA to stop allowing meats that were imported into the country from being allowed to use a label stating that it was a product of the United States.
USCA President Justin Tupper praised the announcement on Monday.
“If it says ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil,” Tupper said. “Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from, full stop.”
However, Kent Bacus, executive director of government affairs at the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in a statement that while there is “no question” that the current “Product of USA” label for beef is “flawed,” more needs to be done.
“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,” Bacus said. “We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.