WASHINGTON - Current federal meat labeling standards are disadvantaging U.S. family beef producers by allowing products born, raised, or slaughtered outside of the United States to carry the “Product of the U.S.A.” label. These standards need to be changed immediately, according to the nation’s second largest general farm organization.

National Farmers Union (NFU) wrote to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) on Aug. 16, in support of a petition by the Organization for Competitive Markets and American Grassfed Association that FSIS should change current regulations to require that beef be of domestic origin to be eligible for the “Product of the U.S.A.” label.

“Any product that is simply processed in the U.S. can be labeled ‘Product of U.S.A.,’ wrote NFU President Roger Johnson. “This standard allows beef that is born, raised and slaughtered in another country to be labeled ‘Product of U.S.A.,’ provided it passes through a USDA-inspected plant. This permits product labeling that misleads consumers and places U.S. ranchers at a market disadvantage.”

The current standards allow foreign interests and multi-national corporations to take advantage of market opportunities that should be reserved for U.S. family farmers and ranchers, according to NFU. “This financially harms U.S. beef producers who currently find themselves in a highly consolidated marketplace,” said Johnson. “Today, four companies, Cargill, Tyson, JBS and National Beef, control over 80 percent of the beef market. All four of these multinational corporations depend on imported meat and meat products.”

Johnson noted that NFU has long been a proponent of mandatory country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for agricultural products as a means to ensure consistent labeling for the benefit of American family farmers and consumers. Yet COOL was repealed in 2015, and the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” labels do not provide consumers with accurate country-of-origin labeling. That, coupled with extreme consolidation in the beef industry, has significantly disadvantaged American beef producers. In fact, cattle producers have seen their retail earnings decline by 50 percent since 2014. Today, U.S. cattle producers receive only $0.22 of the retail food dollar.

Finally, Johnson cited Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and FSIS regulations that clearly prohibit meat and meat product labels that are misleading to consumers.

“USDA has a responsibility to correct “Product of U.S.A.” labeling standards. Current labeling practices do not satisfy the requirements of the Federal Meat Inspection Act or federal regulations,” said Johnson. “FSIS must amend its labeling standards to restrict use of the ‘Product of U.S.A.’ label exclusively for meat and meat products that derive from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.”

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