’Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet…
“Romeo and Juliet,” Act 2, Scene 2
You have to think that Big Beef absolutely adores Juliet’s soliloquy.
Four meatpacking companies – Cargill, Tyson Foods, JBS, and National Beef Packing – purchase and process a staggering 85% of beef in the U.S.
And a whole bunch of that beef is coming from foreign nations. The latest USDA Economic Research Service data from January reports beef imports were an all time record for the month at 365 million pounds. About 12% of beef consumed in the U.S. comes from countries including Australia, Canada and Brazil.
And a lot of that foreign beef is sold at grocery stores across the nation with labels proclaiming “Product of USA.”
That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Big Beef is more than happy to slap Product of USA labels on beef it knows was not born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the good ol’ USA.
Cargill even proudly tells the world that the beef it imports from Canada, Mexico, Australia, New Zealand, and Nicaragua meet the “Product of USA” labeling standard.
The kicker is that it’s all legal. Yup.
Here’s the backstory.
After a decade of debate, the Agricultural Marketing Service in May 2013 published a rule in the Federal Register requiring mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef and a host of other meats. But that didn’t sit well with Mexico and Canada which lodged formal complaints at the World Trade Organization.
In May 2015, the WTO’s appellate body upheld an earlier WTO compliance panel decision that mandatory country-of-origin labeling, as written, was out of bounds and that it would begin an arbitration process to determine damages. That same day U.S. Rep. Michael Conaway (R-TX) introduced a bill to repeal mandatory country-of-origin labeling. In June, the House repealed mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef, pork and chicken 300-to-131.
Political pressure grew throughout the summer and fall of 2015 for the White House to do something to prevent the WTO from permitting Canada and Mexico to institute annual retaliatory tariffs that could top $1 billion annually.
In December 2015, President Barack Obama signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act which removed mandatory country-of-origin labeling requirements for muscle cuts of beef and pork as well as ground beef and pork.
That should have been the end of the story. Except it isn’t. Big Beef can still voluntarily use country-of-origin labels, and a huge loophole in the law allows foreign beef to be labeled as “Product of USA” if it passes through a USDA-inspected plant.
It’s all there in the Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book. Beef can bear a “Product of USA” or similar label if it meets either of two conditions:
“(1) if the country to which the product is exported requires this phrase, and the product is processed in the United States, or (2) the product is processed in the United States.”
Let that sink in for a moment. Trim a little fat, repackage. Repeat. And foreign beef is branded as “Product of USA.” Or even worse, “Made in USA.”
And the public has bought into this rose-by-any-other-name swindle. A Research Triangle Institute survey last November found:
“About 16% of eligible consumers identified the correct definition for the ‘Product of USA’ claim (i.e., the product must be processed in the United States; the animals can be born, raised, and slaughtered in another country), 63% provided an incorrect response (most believed all production steps must take place in the United States), and 21% said they did not know.”
Do the math: 84% of respondents were clueless.
Big Meat ain’t going to like this but the White House is waking up and smelling the roses.
In March, USDA filed a proposed rule in the Federal Register to end this nonsense:
“Under this proposed rule, two specific voluntary U.S.-origin label claims, ‘Product of USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ (the ‘authorized claims’), would be generically approved for use on single ingredient, FSIS-regulated products derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. The two voluntary authorized label claims ‘Product of USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ would also be generically approved for use on multi-ingredient FSIS-regulated products if: (1) All FSIS-regulated components of the product are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States; and (2) All additional ingredients, other than spices and flavorings, are of domestic origin (i.e., all preparation and processing steps of the ingredients are completed in the United States).”
It’s about time. Consumers have a right to know that a label means what it says. Independent meat packers and producers shouldn’t have to put up with the Big Beef labeling deception and have the right to see if people will pay a little more for honest to goodness made in USA beef. Winner, winner, beef steak dinner.
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