WASHINGTON – A knock against current origin labels on meat products is that “Product of the USA” can encompass meat produced abroad and later imported as long as the product has been minimally processed or repackaged in a US Department of Agriculture-inspected facility. To correct this, the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association petitioned the USDA to eliminate the “Product of the USA” label in favor of “...more appropriately descriptive generic claims such as ‘Processed in the USA.’”

“Beyond precluding a specific misleading practice NCBA believes this can be accomplished voluntarily without the imposition of new regulatory requirements on the beef supply chain,” the petition said. “Further, USDA through the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) should proactively work with beef producers, processors, and retailers to develop voluntary, verifiable origin marketing claims that deliver tangible benefits to cattle producers without violating rules of trade.”

The NCBA’s proposal would allow, without additional documentation or review, the voluntary use of the claim “Processed in the USA” on any federally inspected product. More specific voluntary claims, such as “Raised and Harvested in the USA” would continue to require review, verification, and oversight within the FSIS label approval system. NCBA’s proposed labeling rule would also enable processor to explore the development of related Process Verified Programs (PVPs) through AMS or alternative third-party certification systems.

“The Product of the USA label does not meet the expectations of today’s consumers and disincentivizes the use of voluntary, source-verified claims that allow cattle and beef producers to more effectively distinguish their product in the marketplace,” said Jerry Bohn, president of NCBA. “There is a growing desire among consumers to know more about the origin of the food they purchase, and it is critical that producers are empowered with opportunities to market their high-quality beef in a way that allows them to differentiate the source of their product from competitors and potentially increase profitability.”

Other rancher and farmer organizations also have campaigned for changes to US meat labeling rules, including the reintroduction of mandatory country of origin labeling (mCOOL). Congress repealed COOL in 2015 following a protracted battle with the World Trade Organization. Mexico and Canada challenged the law, and the WTO authorized both countries to impose retaliatory tariffs of almost $1 billion against US products.

NCBA said its petition is not a request to reinstate any form of mCOOL. Rather, it is an attempt to balance the industry regulatory responsibility with consumer demand for more information about the origin of the meat they buy.

“By limiting generic labels to ‘Processed in the US,’ retailers and processers can label their products accurately without the added burden of tracing the product’s origin,” the petition states. “Not only would such a change increase the accuracy of labels, but likely grow the value of voluntary origin labeling programs. Producers who choose to trace their cattle through the supply chain should be fairly compensated for their effort.”