USDA closes loophole that allowed transnational meatpackers to claim imported beef was from USA

ABOVE: Don’t know where your beef comes from? You’re not alone.

USDA’s new guidelines for voluntary labeling of beef restore some transparency to our food system, but it will take an act of Congress to ensure consumers know where their beef comes from. 

For the past nine years, American consumers have been misled by transnational meatpackers taking advantage of a loophole in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) guidelines allowing them to import cheap beef, package it in an American facility, and sell it as a “Product of the U.S.A.” This sham led to higher profits for meatpackers at the expense of consumers who thought they were paying a premium for an American product. “Consumers have been lied to since 2015 and producers have been put at an unfair, competitive disadvantage,” said Ron Volk, a cattle rancher and Dakota Resource Council member from Beach, ND. He points out that the tactic also undercut American farmers and ranchers, putting many small, family operations like his out of business. 

“Consumers have been lied to since 2015 and producers have been put at an unfair, competitive disadvantage,”

Ron Volk, North Dakota cattle rancher

After nearly a decade of organizing to close this loophole, WORC members finally got a win. On March 11, 2024, the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced the finalization of their rule, Voluntary Labeling of Regulated Products with United States-Origin Claims. According to the USDA, this rule “allows the voluntary ‘Product of USA’ or ‘Made in the USA’ label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. The rule will prohibit misleading U.S. origin labeling in the market and help ensure that the information that consumers receive about where their food comes from is truthful. Voluntary claims must be compliant with these regulations by January 1, 2026.

As important as this rule is to promoting food transparency, the work is not done. The new rule will only keep companies from lying to consumers using voluntary labels such as “product of the USA”. In order to ensure ranchers get a fair market and American families know where their beef is actually from, Congress needs to finish the job by passing mandatory country of origin labeling legislation for beef. 

“While the rule is a step in the right direction, it is not a win for producers or consumers,” Volk said. “It’s merely a consolation prize. The only way to ensure consumer confidence and fair competitive practices for producers is to make country of origin labeling mandatory.” 

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WORC members are urging Congress to include the American Beef Labeling Act (S.52) and the Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act (H.R.5081) as amendments to the 2024 Farm Bill. The passage of these bipartisan, common-sense bills, combined with today’s actions at the USDA, will ensure that meatpackers will no longer be able to lie about the origin of their products. 

TAKE ACTION: We need labeling bills with teeth and firm deadlines. Transnational Meatpackers need to be held accountable for lying to consumers. And Congress needs to stand up for American producers, not WTO bureaucrats in Geneva. Let your Congressional delegation know that COOL is important to you and they need to support it. Together we can hold big ag and their cronies accountable and restore transparency in our food system.

Learn  more:

Fact-check: Meatpackers are lying to you about Country of Origin Labeling

Myths busted: Meatpackers are STILL lying to you about Country of Origin Labeling

Repeal of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) Continues to Cripple American Ranching Operations

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