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Good and Not So Good News

BILLINGS, MT | The good news is that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalized a rule to end the deceptive labeling practice that has gone on for eight years. You see, the multinational meatpackers were allowed to affix a “Product of the USA” label on meat that was exclusively produced in a foreign country.

The final rule titled Voluntary Labeling of FSIS-Regulated Products with U.S.-Origin, acknowledges that changing this deceptive, 8-year practice is necessary to reduce false or misleading U.S.-origin labeling. In other words, the USDA acknowledges that the 8-year practice deceived consumers.

Further, the USDA states that the final rule will reduce the market failures associated with incorrect and imperfect information. In other words, the USDA acknowledges that the deceptive practice of mislabeling foreign beef as if it was an actual USA product has caused market failure.

So, the final rule will now correct the market failure and deception caused by USDA’s own policies by now stating that the voluntary “Product of USA” label may only be affixed to meat from animals that were born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States of America.

That’s the good news.

The not so good news is that the USDA is giving meatpackers two years before they have to comply with the final rule. That’s right. Even though the final rule was just issued, it will not become effective and enforced until January 1, 2026.

Now this means that by the time the rule goes into effect, U.S. consumers will have been deceived with false and misleading labels for a decade and the markets that U.S. cattle producers rely on for their income will have suffered market failure for a decade.

The other not so good news is that the final rule doesn’t require anyone to label anything – it’s completely voluntary, and it doesn’t require imported beef products to retain their origin label through retail sale, meaning to the grocery store.

Does anyone else think that this is nothing short of incredulous?

So, let’s look at why we even have this problem.

When Congress passed mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef and the USDA implemented the law in 2009, the regulations required that all imported beef must retain its origin as declared to U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the time the product entered the United States, and the product had to retain that origin information through retail sale. In other words, imported beef could not bear a “Product of USA” label…imported beef had to retain its foreign origin on a label when the beef was sold in a U.S. grocery store.

That means that consumers were not being deceived and cattle markets were not experiencing market failure while mandatory country of origin labeling was in effect.

Now we’ve all heard how Congress has a propensity to try to fix things that aren’t broken and to ultimately break whatever it was it set out to fix.

And that’s exactly what Congress did. Congress tried to appease the multinational meatpackers by repealing mandatory country of origin labeling for beef eight years ago. When Congress repealed MCOOL, it effectively granted the multinational meatpackers two gifts:

First, the gift of no longer having to inform consumers as to the origin of the beef they buy at their grocery stores for themselves and their families.

Second, the gift of being able to unwrap an exclusively foreign beef product and rewrap it with a new label that says, “Product of the USA.”

Those are the gifts Congress gave to the multinational meatpackers when it repealed MCOOL for beef.

The gifts Congress gave the rest of us were deception and market failure.

Perhaps this helps explain why an additional 107,000 independent cattle producers went out of business during just the past five years. Consumers couldn’t choose to support our American farmers and ranchers by buying their beef because there were no mandatory labels to tell them which beef was produced by American farmers and ranchers. And for those consumers who did try to support America’s cattle producers by buying beef with a “Product of USA” label, well they were just as likely to be supporting producers in some foreign country because the label itself was deceptive.

Congress caused this travesty by repealing MCOOL and the USDA cannot fix it, only Congress can.

Call your members of Congress and urge them to pass mandatory country of origin labeling (MCOOL) for beef in the 2024 Farm Bill.

Tell your Senators to cosponsor the Senate MCOOL bill, the American Beef Labeling Act (S.52); and tell your Representative to cosponsor the House MCOOL bill, the Country of Origin Labeling Enforcement Act (H.R. 5081).

Tell them no Farm Bill without MCOOL!

You can learn more about MCOOL by going to www.labelourbeef.com.


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R-CALF USA’s weekly commentary educates and informs both consumers and producers about timely issues important to the U.S. cattle and sheep industries and rural America.

Ranchers Cattlemen Action Legal Fund United Stockgrowers of America (R-CALF USA) is the largest producer-only trade association in the United States. It is a national, nonprofit organization dedicated to ensuring the continued profitability and viability of the U.S. cattle and sheep industries. Visit www.r-calfusa.com or call 406-252-2516 for more information.

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