Log in Join Grass Roots Action

Statement of the American Meat Institute on Country-of-Origin Labeling Guidance

Tuesday, October 8, 2002

USDA's guidance for implementation of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for meat products is the most costly, cumbersome and complex labeling proposal in history. Consumers are unlikely to ever see the labels that USDA described in voluntary guidance issued today because this program cannot be implemented.

The fact is, USDA's complicated guidelines will result in hundreds and possibly thousands of product labels that must describe where animals were raised, where they were fed and where they were slaughtered. The U.S. is not an island. Rather, we trade meat and livestock with other nations. We raise animals here, feed them in other nations and bring them back for slaughter. In other cases, we import livestock from other nations and feed and slaughter them here.

We also source our raw materials for ground products like ground beef from a host of nations, including Canada, New Zealand and Australia. Today's guidelines not only require that ground products bear a label indicating the country of origin of every animal that makes up the product, but that they declare those countries based on the weight of the raw ingredients in descending order. Because U.S. ground beef producers may source beef trimmings and raw materials from different nations in different quantities hour by hour and day by day, depending on cost and supply, this labeling system becomes utterly unmanageable and disrupts the free market.

Some may ask, "Precisely how many possible labels will be required?" The industry is still doing the algebra to answer that question - and we don't anticipate an answer any time soon.

What this guidance will do is force companies to source their meat not based on quality or price, but based on what will simplify their labeling requirements. This is bad for livestock producers, bad for business and bad for consumers, who will be asked to pay a premium as a result of this misguided concept.

The ironic fact is that no evidence exists that consumers want this labeling. In fact, in a consumer survey conducted for the International Food Information Council in August 2002, three quarters of consumers said there was no additional information needed on food labels. If consumers had a strong desire to know the country-of-origin of their food products, beef companies surely would have used the voluntary country-origin labeling program that has been available through the Agricultural Marketing Service.

If this guidance becomes a final rule, it will succeed only in restricting meat trade between the U.S. and other nations. And that will trigger the fastest and most blistering complaints against the U.S. to the World Trade Organization (WTO) that we have ever seen.

There is no comment or suggestion that we can provide to USDA to improve this guidance other than to start over. And even then, the industry continues to question the value of any mandatory country-of-origin labeling program in the absence of any proven benefits to consumers or industry.

AMI represents the interests of packers and processors of beef, pork, lamb, veal and turkey products and their suppliers throughout North America. Together, AMI's members produce 95 percent of the beef, pork, lamb and veal products and 70 percent of the turkey products in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, DC, the Institute provides legislative, regulatory, public relations, technical, scientific and educational services to the industry. Its affiliate, the AMI Foundation, is a separate 501(c)3 organization that conducts research, education and information projects for the industry.

For more information contact:
Janet Riley
Vice President, Public Affairs
Josee Daoust
Manager, Public Affairs

 share on facebook  share on twitter