On March 6th, the USDA announced a proposed rule to cover labeling of red meat, poultry and eggs to be labeled “Product of the USA” or “Made in the USA”. This initiative is supported by both consumer groups and domestic red-meat producers’ associations. The claim would require that animals be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.
In announcing the proposed rule, Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, stated, “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. These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions. Our action today affirms USDA commitments to ensuring accurate and truthful product labeling.”
The U. S. Cattlemen’s Association petitioned the USDA to strengthen labeling rules in 2019 and expressed concern that action by the Administration has been delayed.
It is a matter of fact that chicken sold in the U. S. bears the label claim, “Hatched, Raised and Harvested in the U. S. This covers 99 percent of chicken consumed since it is completely domestic in origin.
The North American Meat Institute has criticized the voluntary “Product of the USA” label since the red meat segment of the red meat industry imports cattle and hogs that are processed in U. S. plants and packers would be placed at a disadvantage by exclusion from using the “Product of USA” claim.
Frankly, it is impossible to satisfy producers, consumers and industry associations with a single policy as self-interest fuels political and hence regulatory decisions. Logistic restraints and the realities of a multinational supply chain mitigate against the label.
In commenting on the proposed rule, promoter Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD) stated, “Once this proposed rule is finalized, American consumers will no longer been misled by a “Product of the USA” label that is legally applied currently to foreign products.” He added, “The USDA ruling is a major step in the right direction, and I applaud Secretary of Agriculture, Tom Vilsack, for taking the necessary action to fix this label.” Senator Rounds does not have any constituents in either Argentina or Brazil or metropolitan areas in the U.S. where consumers will ultimately pay more for red meat.
The proposed “Product of USA” label will not require pre-approval from the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service. The proposed label would be separate from the AMS Country of Origin (COOL) mandatory labeling regulations.
The USDA proposed label rule has elicited a negative response from Canada. This nation previously was awarded the right to take retaliatory measures by a WTO Dispute Panel over mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) now rescinded at a considerable cost to the U.S. Canada noted the high level of integration in livestock and red meat production in North America and is concerned over disruption of supply chains. In a joint statement issued by the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food and the Minister of International Trade, Export Promotion and Economic Development, Canada warned that “Any proposed amendments to the labeling of meat, poultry and eggs---should conform to international trade obligations and should not disrupt supply chains”.
Before embarking on a process that is parochial and restrictive in intent and not in any way contributing to enhanced food safety, those in favor of the “Product of the USA” label should consider their proposal in the light of USMCA and WTO commitments. There are wider issues involved including food security and the trade in a variety of commodities, manufactured goods and services. Precipitating an “eye for an eye” cascade of trade retaliation will end up with all parties blind.