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Groups petition USDA to force change in ‘USA’ meat labeling

WASHINGTON, D.C. — In an attempt to force the USDA to change its stance on country-of-origin labeling (COOL), the American Grassfed Assoc. (AGA) and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) have filed a petition with its Food Safety and Inspection Services (FSIS) demanding policy be changed to allow only U.S. domestic meat products to be labeled with: “Product of the U.S.A.”

Current USDA policy does not require that meat be grown or processed in the United States to bear the label – only that it pass through a USDA-inspected facility. The OCM and AGA argue that this lack of clarity in the food policy – which allows meat from foreign counties to bear the “Product of the U.S.A.” label – is misleading to the public and can allow food companies to circumvent FSIS policies and regulations on labeling.

“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,” said Joe Maxwell, executive director of OCM.

“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.”

The petition follows on the heels of a failed lawsuit by the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington in the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Washington, D.C., alleging the USDA was unlawfully allowing imported beef to be both sold to consumers without a COOL label and with a “Product of U.S.A.” label, even if the animal from which the beef was derived was born, raised and slaughtered in a foreign country.

In that case, however, the courts sided with the USDA, stating that the courts could not relax COOL rules as they directly reflect Congressional mandates.

“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 AGA.

“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.”

Grass-fed beef has been one of the fastest-growing segments of 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.