The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has a mission to protect the public by verifying that meat and poultry products are “safe, wholesome, unadulterated, and properly labeled and packaged.”
Under the FSIS Food Standards and Labeling Policy Book, the phrase “product of USA” may be applied to meat or poultry products derived from animals that have been imported from a foreign country but fed and/or slaughtered in the United States, as well as to meat or poultry products that have been imported from a foreign country and repackaged or otherwise further processed in the United States.
Bills have been introduced in Congress requiring that the “Product of USA” labeling claim be limited to beef products derived from cattle born, raised, and slaughtered in the United States.
In response, FSIS contracted with RTI International, a trade name of North Carolina-based Research Triangle Institute, to answer these three questions: (1) Do consumers notice the “Product of USA” labeling claim? (2) Do consumers understand the current “product of USA” definition and other USDA labeling (e.g., USDA Choice) as it relates to country of origin? and (3) How much are consumers willing to pay for meat products bearing the “Product of USA” labeling claim, in particular, if an animal was born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States?
RTI International conducted a “nationally representative consumer web-based survey/experiment for “Product of USA” labeling on meat (beef and pork) products” according to its Final Report of November 30, 2022, Analyzing Consumers’ Value of “Product of USA” Labeling Claims.
RTI International based its thorough report on a survey of 4,834 respondents (“eligible consumers”), consisting of “adults who do at least half of the grocery shopping for their household and have purchased beef or pork products within the past 6 months.”
No surprise that “consumers do notice the ‘Product of USA’ claim.” Most respondents also “believed all production steps must take place in the United States.” Further, no surprise, the researchers concluded that “Eligible consumers have limited understanding of the current meaning of the ‘Product of USA’ labeling claim.”
It was satisfying to learn that the researchers further concluded that “consumers are willing to pay more for meat products when all production steps (born, raised, slaughtered, processed) take place in the United States versus when only processing takes place in the United States.” Perhaps there has been some progress towards J.I. Rodale’s dream (expressed decades ago in 1943) that “One of these days the public is going to wake up and will pay for eggs, meat and vegetables according to how they were produced.”
Earlier this year the USDA released a proposed rule with new regulatory requirements to better align the voluntary “Product of USA” label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means, as evidenced by the thorough report by RTI International.
The proposed rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the United States. A press release from the USDA notes that “this proposed change would prevent consumer confusion and help ensure that consumers understand where their food comes from (emphasis added with pleasure since our mission is to help consumers know where their food comes from).”
Comments on the proposed rule may no longer be submitted since they were due on or before June 22, 2023. Consequently, it is hoped that implementation of this long needed rule by the Food Safety and Inspection Service of the USDA will take effect shortly.
(Frank W. Barrie, 9/8/23)