WASHINGTON — The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced a proposed rule for “Product of USA” label claims on March 6. The rule would require that animals be born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States in order for meat, poultry and egg products to bear the “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim.

“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.”

While the “Product of USA” label claim would not require pre-approval from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service under the new rule, the claim would need documentation on file for the agency to verify. The label would also remain voluntary.

An added component of the proposed rule is the opportunity for other voluntary US origin claims on meat, poultry and egg products. All claims would need to detail the preparation and processing steps that took place in the United States.

USDA said its rulemaking has been supported by petitions, data and thousands of comments from stakeholders.

“Today’s announcement is a victory for American consumers and producers,” said Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD). “Once this proposed rule is finalized, American consumers will no longer be misled by a ‘Product of USA’ label that is allowed to be applied to foreign products. American cattle ranchers will no longer be disadvantaged in the marketplace against lower quality foreign beef that falsely bears the ‘Product of USA’ label. The USDA’s ruling is a major step in the right direction, and I applaud Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for taking the necessary actions to fix this label.”

Rounds’ support for USDA’s new rule comes after years of work pushing for further regulatory oversight on US origin claims. Since 2019, Rounds has introduced legislation, met with Vilsack and backed a bill that would limit “Product of USA” label claims.

Several stakeholders have long been advocating for more clarity on “Product of USA” claims. In 2019, the US Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) petitioned the USDA to review and strengthen the current rule.

“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. “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.”

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) expressed indignation at the time it has taken to strengthen US origin product labeling regulations.

“With American cattle herds at a 60-year low, it is regrettable for consumers and cattle producers that it has taken eight years to stop the mislabeling of foreign beef,” said Brett Kenzy, president of R-CALF USA. “Public sentiment has rallied to force the USDA to stop the lie; now America needs Congress to compel the truth by enacting The American Beef Labeling Act.”

USDA began its review of the rule in 2021. The agency is encouraging a 60-day commenting period for any stakeholders — domestic and international — to provide additional feedback on the proposed rule.