The list of misleading and harmful labels keeps getting longer – and if you haven’t yet, you can add “Product of the USA” to the pile. At best, this label is deceiving to the consumer about the origin of the product. At worst it is destroying the livelihoods of American beef producers. A group consisting of American small-business cattle ranchers, the Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF), is working hard to change this by using “America First” tariffs to lobby Congress to mandate the return of Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws so that beef carrying the label “Product of the USA” is actually produced on American farms and ranches.
You might be surprised to hear this, but according to current rules from the USDA, beef that is born, raised and slaughtered in another country but processed in the United States can be labeled as a “Product of the USA.”
This hasn’t always been the case – past labeling laws have created major riffs between small-business American cattle ranchers and industrial, corporate meat packers. In 2008, Congress required mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) that ensured that only animals that were born, raised and slaughtered in the United States qualified as “Product of the USA.” However, COOL wasn’t favorable to mega meat packers who had to spend significant financial resources separating their multinational beef, so they lobbied for a loophole – one that allowed them to put the “Product of the USA” label on beef from cattle that was born and raised in other countries but processed in the United States—and COOL was repealed in 2016.
Since then, 17,000 cattle ranchers have gone out of business every year since 1980, and in the last five years, United States beef-makers’ grassfed market share has fallen from 60% to 15%. On top of all that, the anti-meat and anti-farming agendas out there seem to be gaining momentum (see our most recent issue of Sustainable Farming Magazine). It’s a tough time to be a livestock farmer. These farmers are facing challenges that could uproot their very way of life and livelihood—all while tirelessly producing food for their communities. Reinstating Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) would help ensure that the economic benefits of agriculture go back to the farmers and not multinational corporations and meat packers.
A 2016 Consumer Reports survey found that 87% of consumers want to know the country of origin of their food, and 74% want to know the state of origin. But unfortunately for shoppers in the US, as it stands, consumers can purchase beef labeled “Product of the USA” when it may not be a product of the USA. COOL laws ensure more product transparency, so if you’re looking to support farmers and ranchers raising beef in the United States, reinstating COOL laws makes finding products that match your purchasing values much easier.
The A Greener World program requires Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for certified animals or products that cross country borders (and this is verified through records at audit). As a program based on transparency and trustworthy labels, this is a critical part of supporting the farmers and ranchers who bring honest labels into the market.