Progressive Cattle Editor Carrie Veselka Published on 26 July 2021
U.S. Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced the USDA’s plans to conduct an in-depth review on “Product of the USA” labeling requirements, following a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) vote to strengthen enforcement of the “Made in USA” standard.
“After considering the many comments received by the FTC and USDA on this issue, we are initiating a top-to-bottom review of the ‘Product of the USA’ label that will, among other things, help us to determine what that label means to consumers,” Vilsack said.
Product of the USA labeling has been a hot topic in the beef industry for decades. Mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL) laws of the early 2000s required retailers to provide country of origin labeling for fresh beef, pork and lamb, and was later expanded to include other items, such as fresh produce and nuts. These laws, as applied to beef and pork, were repealed in 2015 by Congress as part of an omnibus budget bill, due to a series of rulings from the World Trade Organization that claimed mCOOL regulations discriminated against Canadian and Mexican cattle, a large portion of which are born in their home country then shipped across the border to be finished and slaughtered in the U.S. and thus, under the current interpretation of regulations, can be considered a product of the USA.
The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), which have historically been on opposite sides of this issue, both released statements praising the agency’s prompt response to comments from beef producers.
“The ‘Product of the USA’ label is not subject to source verification, is not tied to any kind of food safety standard, and is applied by packers and retailers in a manner that does not deliver value back to the cattle producer,” said NCBA President Jerry Bohn. “This label not only misleads consumers, it is yet another barrier to producers gaining leverage and distinguishing their product in the marketplace. … We thank USDA for responding to those concerns and recognizing that non-source-verified labels are a disservice to producers and consumers alike.”
“USCA applauds the Biden administration for tackling the misuse and mislabeling of products as ‘Made in the USA’ when the product contains foreign components. The FTC’s vote to impose fines on companies that cannot prove that ‘all or virtually all’ of their product is of U.S. origin is an important step toward stopping these bad actors from misrepresenting their goods in the consumer marketplace,” said USCA President Brooke Miller. “That information should be provided truthfully, transparently and without loopholes.”