Monday, September 25, 2023

USDA Proposes New Rule to Close “Product of the USA” Loophole

by Colter Brown

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today released a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means. 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.” 

USDA notes that the proposed rulemaking is supported by petitions, thousands of comments from stakeholders, and data. In July 2021, 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.

As part of its review, USDA commissioned a nationwide consumer survey. The survey 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.  

USDA’s comprehensive review shows there is a clear need to revise the current “Product of USA” label claim so that it more accurately conveys U.S. origin information. 

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 USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) before it could be used on regulated product, but 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.  

USDA encourages stakeholders, both domestic and international, to comment on the proposed rule.

The U.S. Cattlemen’s Associations (USCA) says that under current regulations, imported beef product can be brought into the US., undergo a “significant transformation,” – which can be as insignificant as trimming or rewrapping – and then claim the “Product of the U.S.A.” label. USCA says this is a wholly unacceptable practice that intentionally misleads consumers.

“In our 2019 petition for rulemaking to FSIS, USCA called out the practice of applying ‘Product of the USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ labeling claims on beef products that the food safety agency itself admitted could have come from other countries,” said USCA President Justin Tupper from St. Onge, SD.

“USCA is thrilled that the proposed rule finally closes this loophole by accurately defining what these voluntary origin claims mean. 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.”

“USCA would like to thank the Biden Administration for incorporating this goal in their Action Plan for a Fairer, More Competitive, and More Resilient Meat and Poultry Supply Chain issued in 2022,” Tupper added. “But, we also need to recognize the relentless work by our champions in Congress, including my home-state Senator Mike Rounds, who sponsored the U.S.A. Beef Act that would have prohibited beef from bearing the phrase “Product of U.S.A.” unless it was exclusively derived from U.S. cattle. We could not have elevated this issue without the many voices speaking up in support of the change.”

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USDA/USCA

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