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.”
In 2015, mandatory Country of Origin Label (mCOOL) rules were repealed. Earlier this year, 50 cattle, farm, rural and consumer groups sent a joint letter to the U.S. Senate and House members who co-sponsored the American Beef Labeling Act, seeking to restore mandatory country of origin labeling for beef.
Currently, imported beef products could be brought to the U.S., after undergoing a “substantial transformation,” and then claim to be a “Product of the U.S.A.” The only requirement of these products is that they undergo some kind of change — even one as insignificant as trimming or rewrapping products or changing its name.
Many agriculture groups have argued for clarity regarding product labeling for years. In 2018, Farm Action co-founders drafted a petition filed jointly with American Grassfed Association, making the legal case for the USDA to stop allowing imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label.
“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action. “After a five-year fight, we’re pleased to see the USDA stepping up to stop the cheaters picking the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
In 2019, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association followed suit, filing a petition for rulemaking to Food Safety and Inspection Service regarding beef labeling practices.
“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.”
The USDA stated in its news release that the proposed rulemaking is supported by petitions, thousands of comments from stakeholders, and data. In July 2021, the 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.
A nationwide survey by the USDA 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. The comprehensive review showed a clear need to revise the current “Product of USA” label claim so that it more accurately conveys U.S. origin information.
Critics of the proposed rule — such as the North American Meat Institute — feel that this new approach runs counter to other federal laws, could trigger international trade retaliation, and will lead to price increases for consumers.
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 the FSIS before it could be used on regulated product, but it 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.