USDA proposing changes to product labels, investments in meat processors

The USDA is proposing a rule change to products using the label "Product of USA" and investing in independent meat processors.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 4:31 PM CST
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SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (Dakota News Now) - The 2023 National Farmers Union Convention brought plenty of announcements from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, some that farmers across the country have been waiting to hear for years.

On Monday at the convention, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced that the USDA would propose a rule change on what livestock products can carry the label “Product of USA.” The proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim on meat, poultry, and egg products to be used only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. Currently, the rule only requires that products using the label be processed and packaged in the country.

Under the proposed rule, the “Product of USA” label claim would continue to be voluntary. It would also remain eligible for generic label approval, meaning it would not need to be pre-approved by the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service before it could be used, but it would require supporting documentation to be on file for agency inspection personnel to verify.

“There is definitely a desire on the part of consumers. They want to know where their food comes from. They want to know whether it’s local. They want to know if it’s been sustainably produced. American agriculture in these small- and mid-sized producers are in a good position to be able to respond specifically to that,” Vilsack said.

The rule change has been a priority of the South Dakota Farmers Union for years, according to President Doug Sombke. The organization stated that the change in language would allow consumers to know with certainty that their food is coming directly from American farmers.

“His announcement today I think was as big as it can get. We no longer will be telling consumers that it’s a ‘Product of USA’ when it’s not,” Sombke said.

The move is also supported by South Dakota’s congressional delegation. Senator Mike Rounds (R-S.D.) stated that he applauds the move from the USDA and that the rule change will have a direct benefit for South Dakota’s farmers and producers against foreign products.

“Integrity has been restored to the ‘Product of USA’ label. For years, we’ve called on the USDA to take action to stop foreign beef from receiving the ‘Product of USA’ label. Our work is finally paying off.

Today’s announcement is a victory for American consumers and producers. Once this proposed rule is finalized, American consumers will no longer be misled by a ‘Product of USA’ label that is allowed to be applied to foreign products. American cattle ranchers will no longer be disadvantaged in the marketplace against lower quality foreign beef that falsely bears the ‘Product of USA’ label. The USDA’s ruling is a major step in the right direction, and I applaud Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack for taking the necessary actions to fix this label.

While we acknowledge the magnitude of this ruling, there is still more work to be done. We need to address meat packer concentration and Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling for beef in order to restore transparency and fairness to the cattle market. The work is just beginning, and I remain committed to fighting for American ranchers and consumers.”

Sen. Mike Rounds on the USDA's proposed label rule change.

“I mean, there’s action that has to be acted on by Congress to make this happen. But I’m confident that we will get such action, and I’m pretty certain that Senator Rounds will be one helping us lead that charge,” Sombke said.

The label claim rule change was one of two major items announced at the convention Monday. The USDA will also be investing $89 million to finance the startup and expansion of independent meat processors. Around $9 million will go to two South Dakota recipients, aimed at expanding the capacity of independent meat processors in the state. The investments also aim at providing opportunities for younger generations to stay involved in agriculture by creating jobs in the industry in rural settings.

“This administration came out of the gate swinging hard, especially for the average family farmer and rancher. They know how down and out it’s been,” Sombke said.

“They can run that processing facility, they can run that food hub. They can run that farm-to-school program, they can run an organic operation. Or they can help market a farm family that’s now going online and selling across the United States,” Vilsack said.

The USDA-proposed rule regarding label claims will be open for public comments for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register.