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USDA Will Implement Long-Awaited Change to Country-of-Origin Labeling Rules


Agriculture experts predict that a long-awaited rule changing which meat and poultry goods can bear the label “Product of U.S.A.” will give consumers better information and result in fairer compensation for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

“We will see profits increase for actual American beef producers because that will be the only product that’s labeled ‘product of the U.S.A.,’ and therefore, they’ll be able to sell more beef,” said Marty Irby, board director and secretary for the non-profit research group Organization for Competitive Markets.

Announced March 11 by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, the new rule will require that “Product of U.S.A.” food labels only be used on products derived from animals that were born, raised, and slaughtered within the United States. Current regulations allow products derived from animals born, raised, and slaughtered outside the U.S. to be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” as long as they were packaged within the country.

“The abuse of the ‘Product of U.S.A.’ label stripped America’s cattle producers of a vital opportunity to market their USA beef while denying consumers the opportunity to support them,” said Joe Maxwell, co-founder of the advocacy group Farm Action and long-time farmer, in a press release.

The regulation is “a huge win for America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers,” according to Maxwell.

Advocates for country-of-origin-labeling reform say the four biggest meat packers on the U.S. beef market (Cargill, JBS, Tyson, and National Beef) unduly benefited from the old rule that allowed misleading “Product of U.S.A.” labels. These corporations produced cheaper products by outsourcing to countries with fewer health and safety regulations for their workers and animals, then labeled the meat as “Product of U.S.A.” because they package it within the United States, they said. American producers were unable to compete with these cheap prices or distinguish their American-made products from the outsourced meat products, according to advocacy groups.

“[Product of U.S.A. loopholes] enabled [the meat packers] to be able to sell cheap beef to consumers and make people think that they were actually buying an American-made product,” Irby said.

Small farmers and ranchers in rural America especially felt the brunt of this. The number of U.S. farmers and ranchers has declined recently as big corporations merge producers in the meat, poultry, and egg markets. From 2022 to 2023, net farm incomes dropped by $41.8 billion, according to USDA data.

Irby predicts profits will rise for American producers once the new “Product of U.S.A.” rule is enacted starting January 1, 2026. “At the end of the day, for certain, this [rule] helps U.S. beef producers in the marketplace,” Irby said.