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USDA now says meat labels should be origin-specific
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Meatpackers should list the source of
their products as much as possible and not abuse the flexibility of the
country-of-origin labeling (COOL) law for meat and meat products that
takes effect this week, USDA officials said on Friday, according to Reuters.
A growing concern: Farm-state lawmakers and major
farm groups said they feared meat companies would label beef as coming
from a combination of nations even if it is solely from U.S. farms and
ranches. They said a Sept. 11 guidance paper by USDA suggested an open-ended
ability to use mixed-origin label, such as Product of the United States,
Canada and Mexico, on solely U.S. meat.
A letter from 31 U.S. Senators, including
Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (D-Ill.), said USDA was
not implementing the law as Congress intended. They asked
USDA to make necessary changes before labels become mandatory on Tuesday.
The groups and their concerns. The senators, the National
Farmers Union, the American Farm Bureau Federation and the U.S. Cattlemen's
Association all said they were worried that meatpackers and will lump
U.S.-born, raised and slaughtered meat into a category for meat from
multiple countries rather than label it as U.S. meat.
The labeling law applies to packages of beef, chicken, lamb, pork
and goat meat sold in grocery stores as well as nuts and fruits and
The lawmakers also expressed concern that USDA was excluding
some processed foods from having a label when consumers would
expect one. For example, they noted, cooked items such as a whole chicken
would be a processed food that did not require a label but a whole raw
USDA changed the document on Friday
to give a new answer to the question whether processors could put a mixed-origin
label on meat products from livestock born, raised and slaughtered in
the United States.
"Similar to retailers and intermediary suppliers, retailers
are permitted to market U.S.-produced meat under a mixed origin label
(e.g., Product of U.S., Canada and Mexico) if they are commingled with
meat of mixed origin," said the updated advice. "That is,
if a retailer further processes meat at the store and the resulting
package includes meat of both U.S. origin and mixed origin, (e.g., Product
of U.S., Canada and Mexico), the origin declaration can read Product
of U.S., Canada and Mexico."
USDA is accepting comments through Tuesday on interim rules
for the program and this will be followed by a a six-month
education period. A final set of rules will eventually be released.
Comments: The latest problem
on this topic began during a USDA and industry stakeholder meeting in
Kansas City on Aug. 26, when it became clear that USDA at that time was
going to allow wide flexibility regarding Label 2. Then, after several
U.S. meat processing companies made it clear they would use that flexibility
in their labeling, farm-state lawmakers and major farm groups began protesting.
House Ag Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) called
meat industry lobbyists into a meeting and made it clear legislation
could be forthcoming that would correct the gap he and others felt was
going to be manipulated.
Legislation on this matter would come if the resulting data following
implementation of COOL shows such legislation is needed, congressional
This column is copyrighted material, therefore reproduction or
retransmission is prohibited under U.S. copyright laws.