Proposed USA beef labeling rule divides trade groups
WASHINGTON, D.C., March 10, 2023 — The U.S. Department of Agriculture released 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.
“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.”
The proposed rule comes as a result of a request made by the United States Cattlemen’s Association in a petition for rulemaking dating back to 2019. 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 March 6, 2023, 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.
"In our 2019 petition for rulemaking to Food Safety and Inspection Service, 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 president Justin Tupper said in a statement. “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."
Tupper said USCA plans to submit comments supporting this proposed definition.
However, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association isn’t in support of the proposed rule.
"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,” NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus said. “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 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."
R-CALF USA says the rule could allow for misleading labels:
"The stated purpose of the new voluntary standards is to put a stop to the current policy that allows imported beef, for example, to bear a 'Product of the USA' label so long as the foreign beef was repackaged in the United States. In other words, the current standard allows a U.S. packer to import a big box of beef from Uruguay, to take the foreign beef out of the big box, put it in a smaller package, and then affix a 'Product of the USA' label on the smaller package containing the Uruguayan beef," said R-CALF USA CEO Bill Bullard in an opinion piece.
"The proposed rule would supposedly stop this deceptive practice by reserving the 'Product of USA' and 'Made in the USA' labels only for meat that is born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. We view this portion of the proposed rule as a good thing because it stops the deceptive practice of putting the USA label on foreign meat."
"But in addition, the proposed rule would allow the term 'United States' on a package of foreign beef so long as the label describes the processing steps completed in the United States. Here’s the example provided by the USDA. The agency said it could approve a label that states, 'Sliced and packaged in the United States using imported Pork.'"
Bullard went on to say, "I think this loophole was written into the proposed rule so foreign beef can continue to be labeled with the term 'United States.' It’s my belief that the term 'United States,' however it’s used on a package, will conjure up a sense of national pride in the minds of shoppers. And busy shoppers are likely to see the term 'United States' and not read any further," he said.
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 we see 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.
The proposed rule will be open for public comment for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register. Public comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov.
Source: Rachel Gabel, The Fence Post Magazine