By David Pitt
Requiring meat labels to have more details about a product’s origins is too costly and serves no public health or safety benefit, industry groups said in announcing a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture over new labeling rules.
The rules went into effect in May and require labels for steaks, ribs and other cuts to detail where animals grown for meat were born, raised and slaughtered.
Previously, labels only required that countries of origin to be noted, so a package might say, “Product of U.S. and Canada.” Now, the labels must specify “Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States.”
In addition, the USDA is prohibiting processors from mixing meat from animals born, raised or slaughtered in Mexico, Canada or other countries with meat from the United States.
The American Meat Institute, a trade association for packers, processors and suppliers, and seven other groups said segregating the meat is not part of the law that Congress passed and the USDA is overstepping its authority. They also claim the rule will be costly to implement and that it offers no food safety or public health benefit.
“Segregating and tracking animals according to the countries where production steps occurred and detailing that information on a label may be a bureaucrat’s paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process,” said Mark Dopp, an AMI executive, in a news release.
The USDA says the country of original labeling, known as COOL, will help consumers make informed decisions.
“USDA remains confident that these changes will improve the overall operation of the program and also bring the mandatory COOL requirements into compliance with U.S. international trade obligations,” it said.
Advocates say segregating meat will help if a food safety issue develops.
The rules also have had support from other farmers’ organizations, along with environmental groups.
The meat industry groups said in court documents that about 4 percent to 7 percent of beef and pork consumed in the U.S. comes from animals from other countries. In some parts of the United States, including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, as much as half of the livestock used for meat could be imported.
Once in the supply chain, the meat becomes interchangeable with meat from U.S. animals, the groups said.
“In short, beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán,” said the lawsuit filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. “The same goes for hogs, chickens, and other livestock.”