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Montana Ag Network: 'Product of USA' label aims for transparency for consumers, producers

Posted at 2:06 PM, Mar 08, 2023

GREAT FALLS - The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has issued a proposed rule for “Product of USA” or “Made in USA” to add weight to the marketing.

The proposed ruling will allow for the label to be placed on meat, poultry, and egg products.

“This voluntary label, it can only be put on a product that was born, raised and processed in the United States so that they can't continue to really mislead consumers,” said Montana Farmers Union president Walter Schweitzer.

The concern goes further as a fight for transparent marketing of meat products in the U.S. continues.

“Our concern all along has been the fact that you know, you have a government label, and even though it's a generic label, it is still a government label. And that's competing with private interests, that's competing with our cattle producer’s ability to differentiate our product in the marketplace," explained National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA) Executive Director of Foreign Affairs Kent Bacus.

The NCBA is a major petitioner of the USDA’s proposed rule and continues to read into a lengthy proposal.

“We're still looking through all the details of that proposed rule. You can't just look at a press release. You must look beyond that. Look at the details.”

Schweitzer said, “I was afraid that we were going to lose consumer confidence.”

That’s because he believes consumers want to purchase the true, “Product of USA” beef. The NCBA, they are left pondering the USDA’s proposal.

“We leave us with more questions than answers. And so that's what we're going to continue to look at this and make sure that any solutions that come forward offer producers’ profitability and provide real integrity in the supply chain,” said Bacus.

Transparency and integrity in labeling posed questions about where the NCBA stood on Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL), they don’t support the “Mandatory” but rather the “Voluntary”. With the support of the USDA adding substance to a “Product of USA” labeling, would this lead to supporting bi-partisan legislation in Washington D.C.?

“NCBA is not going to change our grassroots, established, and driven policy position when it comes to mandatory country of origin. But at the same time, we do believe in having integrity and transparency in our labeling. And the product of USA label has not offered that.”

It comes as the NCBA and Montana Farmers Union both differ on their stances for Country-of-Origin Labeling. Two industry advocates, in it for a common goal, both can’t seem to be eye to eye on labeling.

Bacus says that cattle ranchers are the best marketing tool for their beef. Montana Farmers Union feels otherwise.

“Farmers Union represents the family farm only. And we get all our revenue from the family farm members are cooperatives that are helping the family farm. That's how we fund our organization. We have been strong and standing strong on the Country-of-Origin labeling for decades.” Schweitzer said.

The USDA’s proposed rule is a step in the right direction for the consumer and producer at the supermarket, where the “Product of USA” label has held minimal weight. Farmers Union organizations want to continue further with marketing beef and pork, while NCBA believes this brings integrity back to the meat counter.

The USDA is encouraging stakeholders to comment on the proposed rule, which will remain open for 60 days after making its way to the Federal Register.

Here is a list of links to all things on the USDA “Product of USA” proposed ruling: