Update: Country of Origin Labeling

Posted by Will Harris
May 13, 2024 4:24:04 PM


On March 11 the USDA finalized new requirements for the "Product of the USA" labeling claim.  Thank God. Here is some background on that unfair rule that never should have been put into place.

I became unhappy in the industrial beef production business in the mid 1990's. I began an abrupt change from the industrial production model to running the farm the way that I do today.  I had begun producing what is now referred to as “Grass Fed Beef,” but that was not a very common term to hear 30 years ago.

That transition from industrial cattle production to producing grass fed beef caused me to end a consistent 20+ year streak of farm profitability. I'd never lost money in the industrial beef production business, but I experienced a lot of losses in my early years as a grass fed beef producer.

But...my timing was very, very lucky. Around the year 2000 I was able to sell Whole Foods Market and Publix Supermarket the first pound of beef that either one of them ever marketed as "American Grass fed Beef.” I had about 15 years of very good profitability. Either of those two grocery companies would have bought all of the grass fed beef that I could produce, and they allowed me to produce it profitably.  

That profitability began to erode soon after 2015. That was the year that USDA changed the definition of "Product of the USA,” with regard to beef. Before this change beef that was marketed as a product of the USA was required to be born, raised, and processed in the USA.  The new change allowed any beef to be labeled as “Product of the USA” if any value was added in the USA. That means that beef that was born, raised, and slaughtered in Uruguay, Australia, or 20+ other countries could be proudly marketed by your grocer as Product of the USA.  

I have some very strong suspicions regarding why this change was made, but no proof. It was unvarnished bullshit, but it was perfectly legal, and we American Grassfed Cattlemen have been fighting it for nearly a decade. We finally prevailed on righting this wrong.  

The sad news is that the new rule won't come into effect until January of 2026. So you need to be careful to know who is producing your American Beef for the next 21 months. Also... the label is voluntary. It can still be imported without them telling you (this labeling should be mandatory, but it ain't). They just can't legally call it "Product of the USA" any more after January 1, 2026.

Here is the announcement:

USDA Finalizes New Requirements for the Voluntary “Product of USA” Labeling Claim

The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) announced a final ruleindicating new regulatory requirements for the voluntary “Product of the USA” claim to better align the claim with consumer understanding of its meaning. The final rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” claim to be used only on FSIS-regulated products that are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States. While it’s important to note that this is only a voluntary claim and county-of-origin labeling is still not required, we support this revision and see it as an opportunity to enhance clarity and transparency in food labeling. Producers in Canada can find information about Canadian rules for country of origin labeling here, including which products are required to be labeled and guidelines for voluntary origin claims.”

Let me be clear. I'm sure that there are producers in Australia and the other exporting countries who produce great products. I'm just happy that the retailers now will have to quit lying about it.


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