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March 15, 2023

What Would New ‘Product of USA’ Food Label Requirements Mean for American Agriculture?

The USDA Recently Proposed New Food Labeling Requirements. Will They Help or Hinder the American Farmer?

On March 6, USDA secretary Tom Vilsack announced several new initiatives to “recenter U.S. agriculture” and provide support for small to mid-sized farm operations. The announcement included the creation of a “seed liaison” within the department to promote fairer competition and innovation for seeds and key inputs.  

Along with that and an $89 million investment in independent meat processors, one of the top takeaways from Secretary Vilsack’s speech was the USDA’s proposed revisions to the requirements of the commonly debated ‘Product of USA’ food label.  

What to Know About the Proposed ‘Product of the USA’ Label Requirements

The Why 

‘Product of USA’ food labeling has been an area of frustration for a while now. Industry leaders have been advocating for more transparency in the voluntary labeling requirements for years, as many consumers believed it meant that the product they were buying was born, raised, and processed in the U.S. While this may have been true for some, in its prior form, ‘Product of USA’ labels simply meant it was only processed in the United States.  

In 2021, the USDA provided statistical evidence that this country-of-origin labeling system created confusion for a majority of consumers, with as much as 63 percent incorrectly identifying what ‘Product of USA’ means.  

The What  

Using insights from this study, the USDA proposed a new rule that would keep the labeling system voluntary, but would now require agricultural goods using the ‘Product of USA’ label to have their entire production cycle based in the U.S. For example, in this new form, animal products could only have ‘Product of USA’ food labels if they are derived from animals that were born, raised, and processed here in the U.S.  

This is a big step in fulfilling an executive order issued last July aiming to promote greater competition in the U.S. ag sector. It is also the first major progress towards transparency in food labeling since the Mandatory COOL program was repealed in 2015 to avoid tariffs being placed on U.S. meat exports. 

“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. These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions.”

Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

Next Steps 

There is a 60-day public comment period following the announcement for domestic and international stakeholders to comment on the proposed food labeling rule. According to the Federal Register website, formal comments are being accepted through May 12, 2023.  

Have firsthand perspective on this topic? Submit feedback here. 

Ag Industry Speak on Proposed Food Labeling Requirements

“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. These proposed changes are intended to provide consumers with accurate information to make informed purchasing decisions.”

Secretary Vilsack’s announcement was made at the National Farmers Union Annual Convention and was met with a standing ovation.  

“For too long, family farmers and ranchers have been competing in a market where imported products were labeled as a product of the United States. This announcement will bring about Fairness for Farmers and let consumers know where their food is coming from.”

Excerpt from NFU newsletter

But they weren’t the only ag organization celebrating. U.S. Cattlemen’s Association (USCA) President Justin Tupper said this was a long-awaited ruling that their organization has been advocating for years.  

“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. If it says ‘Made in the USA,’ then it should be from cattle that have only known USA soil.”

Justin Tupper, President of U.S. Cattlemen’s Association

Other groups celebrating this win include Farm Action, American Grassfed Association, and more. 

Despite the majority of industry leaders supporting the proposed ruling, it isn’t entirely unanimous. The North American Meat Institute (NAMI) expressed concern that the new ‘Product of USA’ food labeling requirements could trigger international trade retaliation and would be difficult to enforce due to an “overburdened and understaffed” Food Safety Inspection Service.  

NAMI also noted that the proposed rule “excludes many popular products made in America, by workers in America, and under inspection from the USDA, including certain brands of hot dogs, sausage, bacon, ground beef, and sliced ham.”  

Bottom line: The proposed ‘Product of USA’ food labeling requirements seem to be a step in the right direction for U.S. meat producers, but it will be interesting to see if the food labeling requirements are expanded into other sectors or if they will aggravate any international trade relationships.  

Stay Informed on the Latest News Impacting Your Farm

Lawmakers and industry leaders agree—our domestic food system is a matter of national security. With elevated financial risk for farmers anticipated ahead, staying plugged into legislative developments and industry updates that impact your operation is more important than ever. But in an age of information overload, staying informed on the topics that matter can be both tiring and time-consuming. 

Committed to helping create a bright future for American agriculture, AgAmerica monitors these developments through the lens of how it will impact our nation’s farmers, and provides biweekly updates delivered straight to your inbox.  

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