SD Senator Opposes NCBA Petition to Eliminate “Product of USA” Label

by Colter Brown
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U.S. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) submitted a comment in opposition of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Center for Public Policy (NCBA) petition which called for the elimination of the “Product of USA” label and the creation of a new “Processed in USA” label.

“If FSIS adopts NCBA’s proposal, consumers would have to sacrifice knowing where their beef comes from only to merely know where their beef is processed,” Rounds said. “Consumers deserve greater transparency. FSIS should strive to apply a more accurate definition to the current “Product of USA” label. Constituents frequently contact our office expressing frustration with the gaping loophole that is allowed under the current standard for a product to bear the “Product of USA” label. The most accurate way to describe “Product of USA” would be to allow its use only if the product is born, raised and processed in the United States.”

On June 17, NCBA submitted a petition requesting the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to “eliminate broadly application Product of USA labeling claims but continue to allow for more appropriately descriptive generic claims such as “Processed in the USA”. Interested parties can submit their comments on this petition here.

In a statement, NCBA said it believes that current “Product of the USA” labels are a disservice to American consumers and cattle producers alike. The claim implies that a beef product is entirely of U.S. origin. However, in reality, imported beef products are eligible to be labeled “Product of the USA” as long as the product has been minimally processed or repackaged in a USDA-inspected facility. It is not subject to source verification, is not tied to any kind of food safety standard, and is applied by packers and retailers in a manner that does not deliver value back to the cattle producer.

NCBA President Jerry Bohn commented of their petition in June that, “The Product of the USA label does not meet the expectations of today’s consumers and disincentivizes the use of voluntary, source-verified claims that allow cattle and beef producers to more effectively distinguish their product in the marketplace. There is a growing desire among consumers to know more about the origin of the food they purchase, and it is critical that producers are empowered with opportunities to market their high-quality beef in a way that allows them to differentiate the source of their product from competitors and potentially increase profitability.”

 

Full text of Senator Rounds comment to FSIS:

I write in opposition to the petition (assigned #21-02) submitted by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Center for Public Policy (NCBA) on June 10, 2021. Specifically, NCBA’s petition requests the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to eliminate the currently misleading “Product of USA” label and replace it with an equally ineffective “Processed in the USA” label.

In support of their request, NCBA claims that, “such an update to the regulatory scheme will serve to eliminate potentially misleading, ambiguous source of origin labeling practices, ensure that the consumer is accurately informed, and facilitate marketing innovation throughout the beef industry.”

We agree with NCBA that the current “Product of USA” label is misleading and that an update would make certain the consumer is accurately informed. Today, the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) allowance that foreign beef may use a “Product of USA” label simply because it is processed in the United States defies logic and I urge USDA to use this opportunity to make a meaningful change for American consumers and producers. At the same time, NCBA’s proposal to eliminate the “Product of USA” label and replace it with “Processed in the USA” woefully undermines the purpose of the label in the first place.  This proposed change is disingenuous by suggesting to the consumer in a misleading way, that the beef is truly from the United States, when it is not. If a processor does not think that the “Product of USA” label is important, they do not need to use this voluntary label. By virtue of NCBA’s petition and processors’ continued use of the current label, we know they do understand the importance of using a label. However, they fail to recognize that the value of this voluntary label is driven by consumer demand to know where the product originates from and it is critically important that we restore integrity to the “Product of USA” label.

Since the 1930s, U.S. tariff law has required almost all imports to carry labels so that the “ultimate purchaser,” usually the retail consumer, can determine the country of origin of the product they are purchasing. Even though meat products were originally exempt from this requirement, the eventual “Product of USA” label was born out of the need and desire for the consumer to know the origin of the meat. This country of origin knowledge allows the consumer to make a safe and informed decision about the product they purchase and consume.

The value in more comprehensive beef labeling stems from the consumer’s ability to understand the origin of the product, the culture and practices associated with raising the product and the ultimate quality and safety of the final meat product. All of these factors are relevant to the value of a geographic label and FSIS should not adopt a labeling scheme that is narrowly focused on where the meat is processed. While we do believe consumers care about where their meat is processed, we strongly believe consumers care more about where their meat originates.

Recently, USDA has publicly recognized that the “Product of USA” label is misleading due to the fact that muscle cuts and ground beef processed or repackaged in the U.S. may carry a label saying “Product of USA” even if the meat is from animals raised and/or harvested in other countries. The current practice (allowed by USDA) is a significant misrepresentation and deviation from the purpose of the label. Even though NCBA’s proposal for FSIS to adopt a “Processed in USA” label allows for slightly more truthfulness in the label, it would undoubtedly undermine the standard, value and purpose of the label. Furthermore, the adoption of the NCBA petition would do nothing to differentiate foreign beef from high-quality, American-raised beef. If FSIS adopts NCBA’s proposal, consumers would have to sacrifice knowing where their beef comes from only to merely know where their beef is processed. Consumers deserve greater transparency.

FSIS should strive to apply a more accurate definition to the current “Product of USA” label. Constituents frequently contact our office expressing frustration with the gaping loophole that is allowed under the current standard for a product to bear the “Product of USA” label. The most accurate way to describe “Product of USA” would be to allow its use only if the product is born, raised and processed in the United States.

 

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Sen. Mike Rounds/NCBA

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