Beef raised in Brazil. Pork processed in Canada. Eggs raised in New Zealand. All of these products—and more—are eligible for a “Product of USA” label under the current label regulations.
But that could change if new regulations are passed by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).
Using a “Product of USA” label is voluntary, and it would remain so with these proposed changes. But under the current guidelines, food such as meat, eggs and poultry can use that label even if the meat originated outside of the country—as long as it undergoes “significant” changes upon entering the US. That can mean beef that is raised and processed in New Zealand but trimmed and rewrapped in the US could be labeled as a product of the USA.
In a 2021 survey, the US Department of Agriculture found that the current “Product of USA” labeling conventions were confusing and misleading for consumers. Many of the survey respondents believed that a product with that label would mean that the animal was raised, slaughtered and processed within the country.
So, that’s what the Biden administration is proposing. With this new set of rules, only animals that have been born, raised, slaughtered and processed within the country can use that designation. For foods with multiple ingredients, the label would only be eligible if all the ingredients, with the exception of spices and flavorings, originate in the USA.
“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 in a statement. Products would not need to be pre-approved to use the label, but they would be required to verify the claim with FSIS upon inspection.
Several industry groups support the proposed changes, and some have been pushing for tightened regulations for years. In a statement, Justin Tupper, president of the United States Cattlemen’s Association (USCA), says that the group has been petitioning for such a change since 2019.
“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,” said Tupper. “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.”
However, one of the largest industry groups, the North American Meat Institute (NAMI), opposes the changes, arguing that it will lead to increased prices and potential tariffs from Canada and Mexico. “Unfortunately, this proposed rule is problematic for many reasons. USDA should have considered more than public sentiment on an issue that impacts international trade,” said Meat Institute president and CEO Julie Anna Potts. The statement goes on to call the regulations “overly prescriptive” and says it could have a “discriminatory effect” as meat processors segregate out animals from other countries.
The new “Product of USA” regulations bring back the standard used in the Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) statute, which was repealed in 2015. The statute was rolled back after the World Trade Organization found that COOL discriminated against meat processors, authorizing Canada and Mexico to issue tariffs on food and other home goods.
The proposed rule changes are up for review, and public comments are welcome until May 6.