A proposal by the U.S. Department of Agriculture would change the rules on what foods can be labeled “Product of USA.”
Current regulations allow foreign-raised livestock to use that designation, putting producers in Michigan and across the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage.
The new rule would allow the “Product of USA” label to be used only on meat, poultry and eggs from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States.
Dee Laninga, senior writer with the group Farm Action, said current law allows the label to be used if the product simply passes through a U.S. inspection plant.
“That allows imported meat to be imported by multinational corporations,” said Laninga, “repackaged, and then passed off as higher-quality product raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers.”
Farm advocates say it’s not only a matter of fairness but also a major pocketbook issue for Michigan agriculture.
The livestock industry and related food processors annually contribute $10.7 billion to the economy while supporting more than 400,000 jobs, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development.
American agricultural interests have been fighting to get the labeling rule changed since Congress rolled back the mandatory country-of-origin labeling rule on beef and pork in 2015.
Laninga said the change would level the playing field for U.S. farmers and also educate consumers about where their food is coming from.
“When you think about it, food labels are a critical component in our food system,” said Laninga. “They connect eaters with farmers. Really it is the most direct communication most of us eaters have with farmers. When we’re shopping at the grocery store, we can’t ask a farmer, ‘How did you raise this? Where did it come from?’ The label really has to do that job.”
The USDA is accepting public comments on the proposed rule through May 12 at regulations.gov.
This story was written by Mark Richardson, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.