The American Grassfed Association (AGA) and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) filed a petition in mid-June with the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) demanding FSIS policy be changed to ensure only U.S. domestic meat products can be labeled “Product of U.S.A.”
The current policy allows foreign meat to be imported into the U.S. and bear the label “Product of U.S.A.” if it simply passes through a USDA-inspected plant.
“The lack of clarity in this policy allows food companies to skirt the federal law and regulations governing labeling and leads to violations of FSIS’s own policies and regulations that clearly mandate truthfulness in labeling by prohibiting false or misleading labeling and practices,” say AGA and OCM.
Research outlined in the petition demonstrates U.S. consumers want to know where their food comes from and that consumers place a higher financial value on food that is local, regional and from the U.S.
“For consumers, the current labeling practice can lead to the disguising of the true origin of the meat and meat products and allows foreign interests and multi-national corporations to take advantage of increased U.S. market opportunities,” say the organizations. “This can allow for an unfair market advantage for foreign meat and meat products that not only deceives the consumer, but financially harms U.S. family farmers and independent ranchers.”
Joe Maxwell, executive director of the Organization for Competitive Markets, added, “With the Congressional repeal of mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef and pork products, it is imperative that when a company chooses to label its meat products that origin statement be truthful. Allowing foreign profiteers to mislabel meat products plunders the profits of U.S. farmers and ranchers at the expense of U.S. consumers. This is simply criminal.”
Hit hardest by misbranding of U.S. meat products are those U.S. farmers and ranchers who produce grass-fed beef. This market opportunity has been a bright spot in U.S. cattle production, with sales nearly doubling annually. Sales of grass-fed beef grew from $17 million in 2012 to $272 million in 2016, with producers seeing as much as a 30 percent premium for their products.
“In the U.S., the fastest and most profitable livestock market sector is grass-fed, and yet today the only ones making a profit from the growing consumer demand are foreign companies and their interests,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of the American Grassfed Association. “American grass-fed is a superior product, but it is not being allowed a fair opportunity in the market because of our own government policies.”
“The board and staff of the American Grassfed Association are proud to take this action for the benefit of our membership,” said Will Harris, president of the American Grassfed Association and founder of White Oak Pastures, Bluffton, Georgia. “When successful, this change will allow previously denied transparency for consumers. It will empower them to support the family ranchers and farmers who are doing the right things for our land and our animals and our local rural communities.”
AGA and OCM is encouraging all of those with a stake in the U.S. food system to write to USDA FSIS with letters of support once the comment period opens.