by Sustainable Food News 
June 26, 2018

The USDA said Monday it expects to collect a “significant number” of comments on a petition demanding the agency change a policy to ensure only U.S. domestic meat products can be labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

The petition from the American Grassfed Association (AGA) and the Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) said the federal agency’s current policy allows imported meat to carry the “Product of U.S.A.” label as long as it passes through a USDA-inspected plant.

“[USDA] food labeling policy for ‘Product of U.S.A.’ should be based on the source of the ingredients,” the two groups said, adding that “abuses of this label are rampant.”

Sales of U.S. grass-fed beef have grown from $17 million in 2012 to $272 million in 2016 with producers seeing as much as a 30 percent premium for their products. AGA President, Will Harris, estimates about 80 percent of all grass-fed beef sold in the United States is imported, particularly from Australia, and sells for half the price of U.S. grass-fed beef.

And, as imported grass-fed beef displaces grass-fed beef raised and processed in the United States, domestic producers are feeling the squeeze.

Harris is also a fourth-generation cattleman and pioneer in sustainable meat production and regenerative agriculture. He is the owner of White Oak Pastures, Georgia’s largest certified-organic farm and grass-fed beef producer, and an accredited hub of the Savory Institute, implementing holistic farm and ranch management programs such as carbon sequestration in an effort to mitigate the impact of climate change.

Harris told Sustainable Food News that half his company’s sales come from grass-fed beef. He only recently became aware of the market forces plotting to cut off roads to retail success for U.S. grass-fed beef producers.

Harris said that he is making half as much margin on wholesale grass-fed beef sales “as we were making last year. This margin crunch can be directly attributed to imported, grass-fed beef that is marketed as ‘Product of the USA.’ This label is horribly misleading for the consumer. It will destroy the developement of American grass-fed beef industry that has been improving the welfare of farm animals in this country and regenerating farm land in this country and rebuilding rural communities in this country.”

The USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) said the petition wants the policy to state that “products may bear the phrase ‘Product of U.S.A.’ …[i]f 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 or flavorings, are not included). In this case the labels should be approved with the understanding that such ingredients are of domestic origin.”

Comments can be submitted online by Aug. 17 and must include the agency name and identification number FSIS-2018-0024.