“Produced In USA” Label for Meat Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Experts in the industry shed light on the labels

<p>Getty / Kilito Chan</p>

Getty / Kilito Chan

Head to the meat counter at the grocery store or your local butcher and you’ll come across a couple of labels that seem to distinguish between meat raised in the United States and imported meat. The sticker “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” is often applied to different cuts of meat, such as beef, pork, lamb, and poultry. So if you’re wanting American-raised meat, it seems straightforward enough.  Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. 

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What The Label Means and Who Can Use It

The label is voluntary and there are loopholes. The voluntary system means shoppers have to depend on a label that is often used as a marketing ploy.  “Unfortunately, beef is one of a few items for which the labeling is voluntary and that leaves it up to marketers to decide how to describe the product,” explains SunFed Ranch Founding Rancher, Matt Byrne.

With the current law, a cow can be raised in another country, then brought over to the USA to be slaughtered or simply  packaged, and be labeled “Made in the USA.” “It is a fairly hollow claim, given internationally raised and slaughtered animals can be deemed a product of the US, because they’re packaged here,” says Kristen Kilfoyle Boffo, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Walden Local Meat Co.

How This Label Affects American Ranchers

It’s not just consumers who are affected by not truly knowing what they are purchasing, ranchers are also negatively impacted since they are competing with imported meat sold at lower prices and still labeled “Made in the USA.” “Corporations sell imported beef at lower prices which makes it more difficult for domestic farmers to compete, particularly [if they are selling] grass-fed products,”  says Julia Johnson, Compassion in World Farming, U.S. Head of Food Business.

How To Know What You're Buying

“I believe the majority of today's consumers are unaware that much of the meat they are purchasing from the grocery store comes from other countries, sometimes even from across the globe,” says Boffo. If you’re a conscientious consumer and rely on labels to provide insight into what you’re buying, you’ll want to rethink your strategy if you want to eat American-produced meat. “Right now, [the label] is based on assumptions and there is no way for a consumer to know for sure if the meat carrying this label is truly Made in the USA,” says Byrne.

One of the best ways to ensure where your meat comes from is to buy it directly from a rancher. Or familiarize yourself with small meat companies, who work directly with cattle farmers, or those who raise lamb, pork, or poultry. “This is why it is so important for consumers to buy products from brands they know and can trust—and that allows them to make informed purchase decisions,” says Byrne.

A New Proposed Legislation

There is proposed legislation to change the requirements so only meat, poultry, and eggs produced on American soil can use the “Made in the USA” or “Product of USA” labels.

In March 2023, the USDA proposed new rules for the voluntary label, which if approved, would require that only animals born and raised in the United States as well as slaughtered and processed here, can use the label. Documents supporting the claim would need to be on file and available if USDA personnel decided to inspect a facility. Meat companies and ranchers would need to provide descriptions on the packaging about the  processing which  took place in the United States.

Currently, the public can express their opinions on the proposed rule changes until May 12, 2023. If you want to see more transparent labeling for meat products, comment here.

“If this new proposal goes into effect, we anticipate seeing increased sales of domestic beef labeled “Product of USA” as opposed to a more vaguely marketed product, not only due to the smaller carbon footprint but also in an effort to support US-based ranchers and producers,” says Boffo. “Plus we keep our dollars local and support our communities.” 

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