Skip to main content

Idaho Enterprise

Country Of Origin Labeling

Mar 21, 2024 10:58AM ● By Allison Eliason

We’ve been here before.  Farmers, ranchers, advocates, lobbyists and legislators have already walked this path of labeling US home grown products in an attempt to help local producers have a leg up when it comes to competing for their consumers’ loyal purchases.  And while it might not have been a long lasting success in the past, folks are hopeful that they have finally found the magic formula to make the labeling laws finally stick.

In 2008, the initial labeling law, the Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling or MCOOL was initially implemented as part of the Farm Bill.  Finally going into effect in 2013, MCOOL tightened the regulations on meat selling, requiring more detailed information which would include where an animal was born, raised, and harvested.

The new law had multiple purposes, all with the intent to help the local producers.  First, it would give them a bit of a marketing edge over out of country products by being now as locally grown and is known around the world as the best producer in the meat market.  Consumers intentionally buy local to support their fellow Americans and to buy what they know is a superior product.

The labeling law would also help producers have a fair shake as they worked with or even competed against the large meat packing companies that largely dictate the meat market within the US.  Before MCOOL was established, they would import cheaper meats from out of country, prepare it for sale in country, and label it as a “Product of the USA” at the same price as the higher quality, home grown meats with consumers being none the wiser.  Even once the cat was out of the bag, consumers were still at a loss as to how to support local growers without buying directly from the producer, which wasn’t always an option.

As the initial labeling law came into effect, beef market prices began to rise, even so much as a $1/pound, which may seem insignificant until you multiply that by 600-700 pounds and multiply that by hundreds of calves.  And that’s a remarkable difference.  Some say that it was sheer coincidence that the markets trended upwards at the same time as the labeling came to be, and they may be right.  The short lived time of its effects made it impossible to see if it could truly impact the American producer.

In 2015 the World Trade Organization deemed the labeling law a violation of global trade agreements after Canada and Mexico filed disputes that it was an illegal trade barrier.  The WTO authorized $1 billion of tariffs against US products from Canada and Mexico as a result, leading to the law being repealed in 2015.  Many believe that the disputes were led by the meat packers as their profits had dropped due to increased prices paid to US producers coupled with lower sales of their imported meats.

  Friends of the agriculture industry refuse to be beaten when it comes to transparently marketing meat origins.  In the fall of 2021, the American Beef Labeling Act was introduced into both the House and Senate with bipartisan support, led by some of the greatest ag producing states in the country.  Beyond new labeling laws, the Biden administration has made greater efforts to enforce antitrust laws to promote greater competition in the US economy, trickling down even to the agriculture markets.

The push for more clear labeling also comes after global trades are bringing in beef from additional countries around the world that don’t hold to the same standards of food safety and animal health.  Namelay, Paraguayan beef imports began being sold in the US in 2023, originating from a country that struggles to contain diseases such as foot and mouth disease, something very different from what people experience.  Brazilian producers have also had outbreaks of the disease as well as Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), also known as “mad cow disease,” which they are often very slow to report, making countries around the world wary of the subpar meats from Brazil.

If government officials are going to continue to allow out of country cuts into the US, differentiating them with a sticker saying so is the least they can do.  Advocates of labeling say that it is a benefit to both local producers as well as consumers, allowing them to purchase exactly what they want, regardless if it is American grown or not.

Finding success in the legislature, a new country of origin labeling bill has been approved that will come into effect in 2026 that will require any meats marketed as “Products of the USA.” to come from animals born, raised, harvested, and packaged from the United States.  This new twist on the law does not make it mandatory to label all meats, but certainly clarifies that any meat with that US sticker on it was 100% produced by local farmers and ranchers.

There is still debate on whether this fight is worth picking.  Will it really give support to local producers?  Will it cause more harm than good with our global trading partners?  Are consumers more driven by price than quality that they will just buy the cheaper, foreign imports?  How will packers respond if they are forced to pay higher prices for local meat?  

There are a lot of unanswered questions and only time will provide the answer.  But at the heart of the issue is the fact that US meat cuts are far superior and are worthy of the proud label “Product of the USA.”  Their time, energies, money, and management have proven through the years to be something worth fighting for.


Welcome to Malad
Upcoming Events Near You

No Events in the next 21 days.