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Meat and Poultry “Product of USA” Labels Will Soon Be Accurate

Finally there will be truth to the label "Product of USA" when it comes to meat and poultry. Starting in 2026, the USDA will soon only allow Product of USA labels on meat, poultry, and egg products from animals that were actually born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the USA. This eliminates a loophole that big producers use and which hurts American farmers and ranchers, and is also misleading to consumers.

It all comes down to money, of course. It's cheaper for the big producers to raise, slaughter, and process animals in other countries, and then only do final packaging in the US - which is why current regulations allow meat and poultry to say Product of USA, even though it's not. This hurts American farmers and ranchers who have higher expenses, and which gives the big companies even bigger profits. Too bad the rules only take effect by Jan. 1, 2026 - almost 2 years from now!

From Investigate Midwest: USDA will implement long-awaited change to country-of-origin labeling rules

A long-awaited rule that changes 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, agriculture experts predict.

“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 nonprofit 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 longtime 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 meatpackers 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 been in decline in recent years 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.

[This story first appeared in The Daily Yonder - a web-site reporting on rural issues]

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