Sunday, February 25, 2024

USDA proposing changes to ‘Product of the U.S.A.’ labeling

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WASHINGTON — On March 6, the USDA announced new regulations for the “Made in the U.S.A” and “Product of the U.S.A.” labels on meat, poultry and egg products.

The department noted that it is making these new rules to provide clarity for consumers as they understand that products they are buying are born, raised, slaughtered, processed and inspected in the United States. According to the USDA, this initiative coincides with President Biden’s executive order which encourages competition within the economy. The organization wants to ensure consumers that they know where their products come 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,”  U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. “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 rule change comes because of public comments from stake holders, data and petitions. In July 2021, USDA made a comprehensive review of what the term “Made in the U.S.A” meant to consumers. They used a nationwide survey to achieve their results and they found that “Made in the U.S.A” was deceiving to consumers. Consumers assumed when a meat or poultry product displayed “Made in the U.S.A,” the product was born, raised, slaughtered, processed and inspected in the U.S. However, it only meant that the product was just inspected in the U.S.

This new rule says that it is still voluntary whether a manufacturer wants to put “Made in the U.S.A” or “Product of the U.S.A.” on their products. Additionally, it would still continue to be a generic food label. It does not require the inspection of the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to become utilized on a regulated product. Although, it requires documentation on file for agency staff to authenticate.

The anticipated rule will be accessible for public comment for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register. Public comments can be submitted at www.regulations.gov.

Industry reaction

The North American Meat Institute suggests the reason for the rule is because of trade reprisal from Canada and Mexico. Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts said, “Unfortunately, this proposed rule is problematic for many reasons. USDA should have considered more than public sentiment on an issue that impacts international trade. Our members make considerable investments to produce beef, pork, lamb, veal and poultry products in American facilities, employing hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. and with processes overseen by USDA inspectors. This food should be allowed to be labeled a ‘Product of the USA.”

The Meat Institute adds that even though the label is still voluntary, the new rule would discount products that are made in the U.S., employees in the U.S. and the inspection of the USDA. Popular products such as hotdogs, sausage, bacon, ground beef and sliced ham would be excluded under the proposed rule. The rule has identical requirements to a statute called the Country of Origin Labeling otherwise known as COOL. In 2015, Congress repealed the statute due to pressures from Canada and Mexico. The two countries claimed that the statute was a nontariff trade barrier. The United States government attempted to gain support for the statute from the World Trade Organization. Nevertheless, the U.S. government lost four times to the WTO. The WTO gave permission for the Canadian government and Mexican government to impose more than $1 billion in tariffs on goods such as meat, wine, chocolate, jewelry and furniture, the Meat Institute notes, adding that the rule is much more comprehensive than COOL because it incorporates processed products and products meant for foodservice. The items were not a matter under COOL. The Canadian government and Mexican government still have the means to strike back and have no need for the WTO to intervene.

NAMI says the new rule also increases prices for consumers. They claim the rule clashes with Federal laws, The Federal Meat Act and The Tariff Act. It will put more work on the employees of NAMI, who are already overworked. The rule is a big change from FSIS’ intention of only three years ago. The organization would not allow a Cattlemen’s Association appeal on the label, and they said they proposed to introduce rulemaking to: “Limit ‘Product of USA’ and certain other voluntary U.S. origin statements to meat products derived from livestock that were slaughtered and processed in the United States.”

National Chicken Council President Mike Brown said, “USDA AMS regulations already require that chicken sold at retail clearly and accurately identify the product’s country of origin. Consumers seeking USA chicken can already find the ‘Hatched, Raised & Harvested in the U.S.’ label on American chicken. More than 99 percent of the chicken we consume is of domestic origin and can easily be identified.”

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