WASHINGTON — Editor’s note: The following statements have been released following the USDA’s proposed changes to the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim. You can find the full USDA annoucement here. Click to jump to the respective organization’s statement:
National Farmers Union
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
North American Meat Institute
Farm Action and American Grassfed Association
Organic Seed Alliance, Farm Action, Open Market Institute, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition
NFU Applauds USDA Announcement on Product of USA Labeling
At the 121st Anniversary Convention of National Farmers Union (NFU), Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a proposed rule regarding the voluntary “Product of USA” label for meat, poultry and egg products. NFU applauds this proposed rule which will close loopholes that allow meat from imported animals to be labeled as “Product of USA.”
“This rule is about truth in labeling, plain and simple,” said NFU President Rob Larew. “For too long, family farmers and ranchers have been competing in a market where imported products were fraudulently labeled as a product of the United States. Thank you Secretary Vilsack and USDA for bringing more fairness for farmers and ranchers across the country.”
As part of the Fairness for Farmers campaign, NFU is aggressively advocating for truth in labeling. Previous definitions and implementation of the voluntary label were misleading and ran counter to consumer demand for clear and accurate country of origin information.
President Larew added, “NFU will continue to fight for mandatory country of origin labeling. This voluntary effort is a strong step and a strong base for permanent and mandatory country of origin label soon.”
National Cattlemen’s Beef Association
NCBA Statement on “Product of USA” Proposed Rule
Today, NCBA Executive Director of Government Affairs Kent Bacus released the following statement on the USDA’s new proposed rulemaking regarding the “Product of USA” label:
“There is no question that the current “Product of USA” label for beef is flawed, and it undercuts the ability of U.S. cattle producers to differentiate U.S. beef in the marketplace. For the past few years, NCBA’s grassroots-driven efforts have focused on addressing problems with the existing label, and we will continue working to find a voluntary, trade-compliant solution that promotes product differentiation and delivers profitable solutions and for U.S. cattle producers. Simply adding born, raised, and harvested requirements to an already broken label will fail to deliver additional value to cattle producers and it will undercut true voluntary, market-driven labels that benefit cattle producers. We cannot afford to replace one flawed government label with another flawed government label.”
NAMI: FSIS’ New Label Proposal for Meat & Poultry Will Raise Prices for Consumers
The North American Meat Institute (Meat Institute) today said the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service’s (FSIS) latest attempt at proposed rules for a “Product of the USA” label for meat products are again likely to result in trade retaliation from Canada and Mexico costing American consumers and businesses billions of dollars.
“Unfortunately, this proposed rule is problematic for many reasons. USDA should have considered more than public sentiment on an issue that impacts international trade,” said Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts. “Our members make considerable investments to produce beef, pork, lamb, veal and poultry products in American facilities, employing hundreds of thousands of workers in the U.S. and with processes overseen by USDA inspectors. This food should be allowed to be labeled a ‘Product of the USA.’”
At issue is a rule proposed by FSIS that would limit claims so only products made from livestock born, raised, harvested, and processed in America could be labeled a “Product of the USA.”
Although the proposed label is voluntary, this overly prescriptive definition link to proposed rule here > would exclude many popular products made in America, by workers in America, and under inspection from the USDA. Those products include certain brands of popular American foods like hot dogs, sausage, bacon, ground beef, sliced ham and much, much more.
The proposed voluntary “Product of the USA” label will have a discriminatory effect, causing meat packers and processors, who wish to make the claim, to segregate cattle, hogs, and meat from other nations.
This rule uses the same standard as the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) statute repealed by Congress in late 2015.
Congress repealed COOL because Canada and Mexico challenged COOL as a nontariff trade barrier. The U.S. government lost four times before the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the WTO authorized Canada and Mexico to retaliate and levy more than $1 billion in tariffs on goods ranging from meat to wine, chocolate, jewelry and furniture.
Importantly, the proposed “Product of the USA” rule would be broader than mandatory COOL because it also includes processed products and products intended for foodservice, which were not subject to mandatory COOL.
Canada and Mexico still retain that authorization and could initiate retaliation with no further action by the WTO.
In addition to increasing the price of meat and poultry and other goods for consumers, the proposed rule is also problematic because:
- It conflicts with federal law: see The Federal Meat Inspection Act and The Tariff Act;
- It will place additional duties on FSIS, which is already overburdened and understaffed.
- It is a significant change from FSIS’ stated intention provided just three years ago when the agency denied a United States Cattlemen’s Association petition on the label and said it planned to initiate rulemaking to:
“limit ‘Product of USA’ and certain other voluntary U.S. origin statements to meat products derived from livestock that were slaughtered and processed in the United States.”
For more background on the problems with the proposed rule and country of origin labeling, including statistics on meat and poultry demand, consumer sentiment and effects on the beef and pork markets see this question and answer document.
Farm Action and American Grassfed Association
Farm and Ranch Groups Applaud USDA’s “Product of U.S.A.” Label Announcement
The groups initiated USDA action with a 2018 petition to stop fraudulently-labeled imported meat
Farm Action and American Grassfed Association applaud USDA’s announcement of a proposed rule limiting the use of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label exclusively to meat, poultry, and egg products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States.
In 2018 while at a previous organization, Farm Action co-founders drafted a petition filed jointly with American Grassfed Association, making the legal case for the USDA to stop allowing imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label. In March 2020 and February 2022, the USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service referenced that petition as it announced it would take up the issue.
Current policy allows imported meat to bear a “Product of U.S.A.” label provided it passes through a USDA-inspected plant. This heavily exploited loophole has allowed multinational corporations to import meat, repackage it, and pass it off as a higher-quality product raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers. Today’s announcement is an important step toward closing this loophole, and was met with applause by the groups that initiated the effort.
“Truthful labels protect consumers and keep the playing field fair,” said Joe Maxwell, president and co-founder of Farm Action. “After a five year fight, we’re pleased to see the USDA stepping up to stop the cheaters picking the pockets of America’s farmers and ranchers.”
“Our petition filed in 2018 has finally been acted on,” said Carrie Balkcom, executive director of American Grassfed Association. “We are pleased to have the USDA act on the “Product of U.S.A.” as promised in the executive order issued by President Biden in July 2021. This proposed rulemaking change will help American grassfed farmers not be undercut by mislabeled meat coming from offshore. We will continue to work with Farm Action to make meat labels truthful.”
Misuse of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label began after Congress rolled back Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (MCOOL) on beef and pork in 2015. MCOOL required all meat labels to disclose the country where the animals were born, raised, and slaughtered. Currently MCOOL covers lamb, chicken and other food commodities.
Today’s action by USDA to end the abuse of the voluntary “Product of U.S.A.” label is a crucial step toward bringing fairness to the marketplace, but Congress still must act to restore MCOOL for beef and pork to ensure all meat product labels disclose the product’s origin.
Farm Action will continue to pursue its Truth in Labeling campaign, coordinating with American Grassfed Association and other advocates to stop multinational meatpacking corporations from skirting the law and ensure U.S. consumers are provided the information they need to support American farmers and ranchers.
Food and Farm Groups Applaud the Biden Administration for Promoting Fair Competition in Seed
Organic Seed Alliance (OSA), Farm Action, Open Market Institute, and National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition applaud a new report released today by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), More and Better Choices for Farmers: Promoting Fair Competition and Innovation in Seeds and Other Agricultural Inputs. The report is a response to a July 9, 2021, Executive Order, titled “Promoting Competition in the American Economy,” and includes findings from a 2022 public comment period and listening forum, and interviews and other investigative efforts.
The seed industry is one of the most consolidated sectors in agriculture, with just four companies controlling more than 60% of the commercial seed marketplace. As U.S. infrastructure for public plant breeding decreases, and more independent seed companies vanish, seed is increasingly concentrated in the hands of multinational firms to the detriment of American farmers and the communities they feed. There is an urgent need to rebalance the playing field between corporate players and independent growers, plant breeders, and seed companies. Thankfully, today’s report outlines critical strategies for injecting fairness back into our food and agriculture supply chain.
“The report released today is an historical effort to address long-standing problems in our highly consolidated seed marketplace,” says Kiki Hubbard, OSA’s director of advocacy. “Increasing fairness, transparency, and resiliency in U.S. agriculture are timely goals and we are grateful the USDA is putting the spotlight on seed, the first link in our food production chain.”
As today’s report notes, seed consolidation and intellectual property (IP) issues are complex and interrelated, spanning IP law, antitrust law, and public investments in our food system. Importantly, the USDA has identified opportunities for interagency coordination with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), Department of Justice, and Federal Trade Commission to promote fair competition. Through coordination, these agencies will assess the impact of seed industry consolidation and IP rights on pricing, choice, and availability of plant varieties and the impact of reduced competition on food security, genetic diversity, and regional food systems.
Other steps USDA is taking include:
- USDA-AMS is establishing a Farmer Seed Liaison to ensure “a voice for farmers and plant breeders.” This position will facilitate communications between farmers, plant breeders, and relevant agencies that touch on the IP system to enhance the quality of the patent examination process and reduce confusion around seed IP rights. USDA is also expanding its FarmerFairness.gov portal to enable farmers and businesses to report tips and complaints related to competition and consumer protection in the seed marketplace.
- USDA is also partnering with USPTO on a new Working Group on Competition and Intellectual Property to collaborate on initiatives that enhance the transparency of IP information, including exploring potential research and plant breeder exemptions for U.S. utility patents.
- USDA is using its authority under the Federal Seed Act to ensure that farmers have access to the information they need through labeling requirements to make the best choices in the seed marketplace.
- USDA is identifying priorities for additional public plant breeding and seed system investments, including in crops and regions currently underserved by the private sector and through partnerships between public entities, non-profit organizations, and historically marginalized communities who are original stewards of many varieties.
In addition to the recommendations outlined in the report, our groups support a moratorium on new seed industry mergers and acquisitions attempted by the Big Three: Bayer-Monsanto, Syngenta-ChemChina, and Dow-DuPont. Currently, these dominant firms own and control large swaths of traits, germplasm, agrochemicals, and data platforms. Groups would also like to see coordinated initiatives to include retrospective reviews of these mergers and any impacts to farmers, competing firms, and other stakeholders. Finally, groups would like to see commercial cultivars developed with public dollars to remain in the public domain free of restrictions on seed-saving, research, and breeding.
“Consolidation in the seed sector has had devastating impacts: Farmers are exploited by corporate designs, consumers have less choice, and the death of innovation could spell starvation for future generations,” says Sarah Carden, senior policy advocate at Farm Action. “Farm Action celebrates USDA’s report and its commitment to collaborate with the USPTO, DOJ, and FTC to address competition in this critical sector. We look forward to working with the agency as it pushes back against the incursion of monopoly power.”
“Dominant seed monopolists abuse intellectual property law to threaten new competitors and stifle seed innovation,” says Claire Kelloway, food program director for the Open Markets Institute. “USDA’s latest report shines a light on these and other tactics that push out smaller, independent seed businesses. We’re encouraged that USDA will work with antitrust enforcers to ensure fair competition in such an essential sector and that the agency acknowledges the need to invest in public seed breeding infrastructure.”
“NSAC applauds today’s announcement as USDA continues to address issues of consolidation in our food systems,” says Nick Rossi, policy associate for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Over the last several decades, the seed development industry has become increasingly consolidated and farmers bear the burden through record-high input prices. By better supporting public plant breeding and research, we can ensure that all farmers have access to high performing, locally adapted seeds – no matter where they farm or what they grow.”