The nation’s largest beef producer group says that "Product of the USA" labels on steaks, roasts, and patties mislead consumers and is asking the Agriculture Department to change or ban the wording.

A petition that the National Cattlemen's Beef Association filed with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service Thursday suggested changing the label to something like “Processed in the USA" or else eliminating it.   

The “Product of the USA” label is ambiguous about the source of the meat; current law requires only processing or repackaging of meat to qualify for that claim. 

“As the label is now, there’s a lot that’s implied. With ‘processed,’ it’s a little bit more clear,” NCBA lobbyist Kent Bacus said in an interview with Agri-Pulse.

“As we move forward, it’s important that we find a reasonable solution that doesn’t violate any of our trade agreements, doesn’t trigger any kind of retaliation but also allows us to differentiate our product in a way that is beneficial for producers,” he added.

The industry has struggled to find the right approach to source-verified claims since the repeal of mandatory country-of-origin labeling in 2015. That move followed a lengthy trade dispute between the U.S., Mexico and Canada that ultimately led to the World Trade Organization authorizing retaliatory tariffs of more than $1 billion against U.S. products. Those duties never went into place because the law was repealed.

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This petition represents the second such effort of a beef industry group to try and address “product of the USA” claims. In 2019, the U.S. Cattlemen’s Association submitted a petition to FSIS seeking to have “any beef product labeled as ‘Made in the USA,’ ‘Product of the USA,’ ‘USA beef,’ or otherwise indicated to be U.S. beef, come from cattle that have been born, raised, and harvested in the United States.”

In response to the USCA petition, FSIS said that the existing language “may be causing confusion in the marketplace, particularly with respect to certain imported meat products” and pledged to begin rulemaking to “define the conditions under which the labeling of meat products would be permitted to bear voluntary” origin claims.

In a release, NCBA also said it wanted to work with USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service to develop voluntary programs for producers looking to market source-verified products. 

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