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USDA to address confusing standards on imported beef and pork

IARN — On July 1, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) finalized a rule clarifying standards for when products may be labeled “Made in the United States.” FTC policy has long required that “Made in USA” labels only apply when “all or virtually all” of the product is made in the U.S. Now, with this new rule, the FTC can more easily pursue civil penalties against companies that violate the standards.

For its part, USDA issued a statement announcing “a top-to-bottom review of the ‘Product of USA’ label.” Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack acknowledged the “concern that the voluntary ‘Product of USA’ label may confuse consumers,” but did not commit to any specific reform to the label standards, such as a requirement for it to only apply to meat from animals born, raised, and slaughtered in the U.S.

“The FTC’s rule will help to protect consumers against deceptive marketing tactics that attempt to portray goods largely produced outside the country as American origin,” Thomas Gremillion, Director of Food Policy at Consumer Federation of America, said. “Unfortunately, consumers will still have to grapple with unscrupulous origin claims on beef and pork harvested from animals of foreign origin.”

Current USDA rules allow meat processed from a carcass imported from abroad to carry a “Product of USA” label. Meat from animals born and raised in Mexico or Canada and transported into the U.S. for slaughter may carry the label as well. However, prior to 2015, the USDA required country-of-origin labels that specifically indicated where the animal was born, raised, and slaughtered for fresh beef and pork products. Those requirements were repealed by Congress after Canada and Mexico challenged the policy in the World Trade Organization.

“Thanks to an unaccountable, unelected international tribunal, federal policymakers have abandoned mandatory origin labeling on beef and pork,” Gremillion said. “But the WTO’s decision offers no excuse for failing to protect consumers from deceptive practices, or for neglecting to put in place standards for producers that voluntarily choose to label their products as U.S. origin. Consumers strongly support origin rules; in a 2017 poll commissioned by CFA, eighty-nine percent (89%) of a representative sample of 1000 adult Americans favored, either strongly or somewhat, requiring food sellers to indicate on the package label the country of origin of fresh meat they sell. USDA has the authority – and indeed the duty – to protect consumers from deceptive and misleading claims, including ‘product of USA’ claims on meat from animals that are not born, raised, and slaughtered in the USA.”

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Story courtesy of the Iowa Agribusiness Radio Network

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