U.S. proposes voluntary "Product of USA" label that would shut out Canadian-born cattle and pigs

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has published a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements that will change which meat, poultry, and egg products may carry a voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the US” label.

While voluntary, the change could potentially revive Canada and Mexico’s trade dispute with the U.S. over country-of-orgin labeling.

Currently, products processed in meat and poultry facilities in the U.S. and inspected by the USDA and bearing the USDA mark of inspection may be labeled “Product of the USA.” If a company chooses to focus its marketing on country of origin, it may do so, labeling it as “born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.” as long as it can verify the claim, says the North American Meat Institute (NAMI).

Also under current rules, an imported product may be considered a domestic product if it undergoes a “substantial transformation.” NAMI uses the example of a steer that is processed in a meat packing facility to become beef cuts as the ultimate in “substantial transformation.”

Under the proposed changes, only meat, poultry and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States may carry the “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim. While voluntary, the proposed change is problematic for a fully integrated supply chain, such as that between Canada and the U.S. and Mexico.

NAMI says the change proposed on March 6 is likely to result in trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico costing American consumers and businesses billions of dollars.

“Unfortunately, this proposed rule is problematic for many reasons. USDA should have considered more than public sentiment on an issue that impacts international trade,” says NAMI president and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “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 National Cattlemen’s Beef Association is also not in favour of the proposal. While the NCBA recognizes the “Product of USA” label for beef is “flawed,” the organization says that this proposed change “will undercut true voluntary, market-driven labels that benefit cattle producer

NCBA’s executive director of government affairs Kent Bacus says, “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 and 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.”

More to come…

See all our past coverage of country of origin labeling (COOL) here

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