The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a proposed rulemaking to close the “Product of the U.S.A.” loophole that meatpackers use to purposefully mask the identify of their comingled beef products.
Under current regulations, imported beef product can be brought into the US., undergo a “significant transformation,” – which can be as insignificant as trimming or rewrapping – and then claim the “Product of the U.S.A.” label. This is a wholly unacceptable practice that intentionally misleads consumers.
The proposed rule announced today 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 follows a request made by the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) in a petition for rulemaking submitted to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in 2019.
USCA President Justin Tupper issued the following statement:
“In our 2019 petition for rulemaking to FSIS, USCA called out the practice of applying ‘Product of the USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ labeling claims on beef products that the food safety agency itself admitted could have come from other countries.
“USCA is pleased to see that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean, something we have been working to clarify since the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2015. If it says ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil. Consumers have the right to know where their food comes from, full stop.
“USCA would like to thank the Biden Administration for incorporating this goal in their Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain issued in 2022. But, we also need to recognize the relentless work by our champions in Congress, including my home-state Senator Mike Rounds, who sponsored the U.S.A. Beef Act that would have prohibited beef from bearing the phrase “Product of U.S.A.” unless it was exclusively derived from U.S. cattle. We could not have elevated this issue without the many voices speaking up in support of the change.
“USCA plans to submit comments supporting this proposed definition.”
So, what exactly does this announcement mean?
This is the first major progress since COOL was originally passed in the 2008 Farm Bill – and the first step towards truth in labeling since the program’s repeal in 2015.
What about mCOOL?
Mandatory COOL remains USCA’s primary goal, and the wishes of the majority of the cattle producers and consumers. USCA members should continue to call and write their elected representatives and ask for their support of the American Beef Labeling Act. This bill reinstates mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for beef.
Specifically, the bill requires the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to develop a means of reinstating the requirements that complies with the rules of the World Trade Organization. The USTR and the Department of Agriculture must implement the means within one year. The support of Congress will be a critical part of the pathway forward for COOL, and that will be accomplished through a grassroots push by cattle producers. USCA’s request for a clear definition from the USDA FSIS is the first step to securing truthful and accurate labels.
And what happens next?
USDA will open a public comment period on this proposed rule. We must rally around definitions – the pathway towards country-of-origin labeling begins with closing the current loopholes. The approach suggested by USDA would get labeling right on beef. Now, we need to work to get it right on cattle. Join us in putting an immediate halt to fraudulent labeling by supporting this definition change.