Producers who lost the battle over mandatory country-of-origin labeling on meat could get a second chance to tighten labeling standards through a petition to USDA by the American Grassfed Association and the Organization for Competitive Markets.
The petition requests the Food Safety and Inspection Service change policy to ensure only U.S. domestic meat products can be labeled “Product of the USA.”
The original deadline for comments was Aug. 17, and the agency has received nearly 2,000 — mostly supportive of the change. On Monday, FSIS extended the comment period to Sept. 17.
An FSIS spokesman told Capital Press in an email the deadline was extended due to significant interest from stakeholders.
In their petition, AGA and OCM said current FSIS policy allows foreign meat and meat products that passes through a USDA-inspected plant to be labeled Product of USA.
FSIS policy states that meat can be labeled Product of USA “if the product is processed in the U.S.”
The petitioners want that changed to “if it can be determined that significant ingredients having a bearing on consumer preference, such as meat, vegetables, fruits, dairy products, etc., are of domestic origin (minor ingredients such as spices and flavorings are not included).”
The petition states that FSIS regulations and the Federal Meat Inspection Act clearly establish that meat product labels must not mislead the consumer or be false, and Congress has given similar protection authority to the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Customs Border Protection and the Food and Drug Administration, the petitioners said.
“Through legislative action, Congress has consistently established the law on labeling. Labels must not be misleading, false or misbranded. Domestic origin is one of the attributes of the product that must be truthful,” the petition states.
In enacting the Federal Meat Inspection Act, Congress fully recognized misbranding not only impacts consumers and processors but can result in “sundry losses to livestock producers,” the petitioners said.
“Research consistently demonstrates that consumers support knowing the origin of their food and it clearly indicates that U.S. farmers and ranchers can benefit from this consumer preference,” the petition sates.
Allowing foreign meat and meat products to bear the Product of USA label denies U.S. cattle producers that market opportunity and denies consumers the transparency they are entitled to under the law, the petitioners said.
The top four meatpackers control more than 80 percent of the U.S. beef market. They market globally and often own their own cattle or through contracts control cattle around the world, they said.
“These corporations can simply import cheaper foreign beef, pass it through a USDA-inspected plant or blend it with U.S. beef and gain the increased market value that can be attributed to ‘Product of USA.’”
U.S. grassfed cattle producers are the hardest hit, with imports accounting for up to 80 percent of the total U.S. grassfed beef market. Current FSIS policy is having the adverse outcome on farmers and consumers Congress specifically intended to prevent, the petitioners said.
To comment or to view the petition and comments, visit: https://www.regulations.gov/docket?D=FSIS-2018-0024