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March 15, 2023

USDA Secures New Requirements for the ‘Product of USA’ Food Label

After a year-long battle, ‘Product of the USA’ food labels now mean what they say.

In March of 2023, USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the USDA’s proposed revisions to the requirements of the commonly debated ‘Product of USA’ food label. In March of 2024, President Joe Biden finalized the new rule, which requires meat, poultry, or eggs labeled as a U.S. product to come from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in America.

What to Know About the New ‘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 many 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.  Producers will have until January 1, 2026 to comply with the new regulations.

This is a big step in fulfilling an executive order issued in July 2021 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 It is also the first major progress towards transparency in food labeling since the Mandatory COOL program was repealed in 2015 to avoid tariffs being placed on U.S. meat exports.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

Ag Industry Speaks on Food Labeling Requirements

The fight for better trade conditions for U.S. farmers continues, but this new legislation is considered a big win by many in the industry.

“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

“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action.

Despite the majority of industry leaders supporting the 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 new 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 they will impact our nation’s farmers, and provides bimonthly updates delivered straight to your inbox.  

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