Beef products should be labeled as “Made in the USA,” or “Product of the USA” or “USA beef” only if they come from cattle born, raised and harvested in the United States, according to the majority of comments on a petition.
Most of the nearly 1,900 people and organizations who’ve provided comments on the petition to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) favor such a standard for labeling U.S. beef. And, the U.S Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), one of three big national organizations of beef producers, filed seven pages of comments supporting the petition on Aug. 17.
The USCA says consumers support Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef out of “food safety concerns regarding imported beef, a preference for labels and more information about the source and origin of products, (and) a strong desire to support U.S. producers, and beliefs that U.S. beef is of higher quality.”
It’s the first big beef organization to endorse a petition that originated with domestic grass-fed cattle producers who often “face foreign competition.” The request began with the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and American Grassfed Association (AGA), which filed a petition to stop imported meat from being mislabeled “Product of U.S.A.”
The petition sponsors recently won an extension of the comment deadline to Sept. 17.
“Producers across the country are demanding accurate labeling of U.S.beef products and the USCA will continue its work to secure this needed transparency,” said rancher Maggie Nutter, who serves on the USCA Board of Directors.
Other organizations representing beef producers have not yet filed comments, the Denver-based National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) and the Billings, MT-based Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA). Major organizations often wait until just before the deadline to file comments.
Individual comments are being filed every day.
“I am a rancher and operate 1,000 acres in Texas for the production of cattle and beef,” says Margot Heard. “American ranchers are being harmed by foreign beef being allowed to be labeled ‘Product of the U.S.A.’ That is blatantly untrue. Foreign meat should not be allowed to be inspected by USDA and given their approval.”
Heard says American family ranchers “are paying the price” for a policy that supports the global business interests of foreign producers such as the Australians. She says the Federal Meat Inspection Act is supposed to protect consumers from false and misleading labeling.
Joan Falcao, a cattle rancher in South Hero, VT, is “struggling to compete with imported beef.” She says “Americans who want to support American producers need to know whether the animal came from the U.S. or not.”
Food standards and labeling policies are contained in the FSIS policy book that provides guidance on a voluntary basis to manufacturers for preparing labels that are “truthful and not misleading.” The petition would amend the policy book as a means to achieve Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) that was once written into law but removed by Congress at the behest of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
R-CALF sued Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue regarding that action but lost the entire challenge in June. A federal judge found USDA is carrying out congressional intent. Congress removed the legal requirement for COOL after WTO granted Canada and Mexico permission to impose punitive tariffs on the U.S. over the issue.
The USCA letter says the problem now is that “there are no parameters dictating which beef products may be permissibly labeled as “Made in the U.SA.”, resulting in potential consumer confusion in the marketplace where beef, which is not born, raised and harvested in the United States is nonetheless voluntarily labeled as though it were a product of the U.S.”
Other organizations that have filed supportive comments include the National Farmers Union, National Family Farm Coalition, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Farm Aid, Union of Concerned Scientists, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, Western Organization of Resources Councils, United Food and Commercial Workers, The Humane Society of the United States, Natural Grocers, and Strauss Brands.