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Product of USA' meat labels draw Canadian concern



Canada's federal government and organizations representing some of the nation's beef producers are sounding alarms over a decision made south of the border concerning labels on meat, poultry, and eggs stating "Product of USA." 


The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently unveiled a final rule outlining conditions under which voluntary "Product of USA" or "Made in the USA" labels may be utilized. This rule specifies that such labels can only be used for meat, poultry, and egg products if they originate from animals born, raised, slaughtered, and processed within the United States.


Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack expressed in a news release that this rule, slated to take effect in 2026, aims to provide consumers with assurance that every phase of production, from birth to processing, occurred within the United States.


However, Canada's Agriculture Minister, Lawrence MacAulay, and International Trade Minister Mary Ng expressed disappointment in a joint statement, citing concerns about the rule's potential impact on the "unique and important trading relationship" between Canada and the United States. They emphasized the close collaboration between the meat and livestock sectors in both countries and announced intentions to address the issue during an upcoming trilateral meeting with the United States and Mexico.


This rule represents a significant departure from current policy, which permits the voluntary use of such labels on products derived from animals imported from foreign countries and subsequently processed in the U.S. Additionally, it allows for the labeling of imported meat that has undergone repackaging or further processing.


Vilsack hailed the announcement as a crucial step towards consumer protection, underscoring the Biden-Harris Administration's commitment to fostering trust and fairness in the marketplace, particularly for smaller processors. The USDA noted that the final rule garnered support from petitions, stakeholder comments, and data from a nationwide consumer survey, while reiterating that the "Product of USA" or "Made in the USA" label claim remains voluntary.


MacAulay and Ng emphasized that Canada is carefully reviewing the final rule, highlighting the vital role of the relationship between both nations in facilitating efficient, stable, and competitive markets while ensuring a steady supply of high-quality products. They expressed concerns about potential disruptions to the highly integrated North American meat and livestock supply chains.


Meanwhile, the Canadian Cattle Association voiced apprehension, labeling the rule as "the most onerous standard in the world." President Nathan Phinney stressed the need to address any issues jeopardizing cattle and beef trade between Canada and the U.S., expressing worries that the rule may lead to discrimination against live cattle imports and undermine the beneficial integration of the North American supply chain.


It's important to note that these voluntary labeling rules differ from country-of-origin labels (COOL), which previously required companies to disclose the origins of animals supplying beef and pork. However, this requirement was rolled back in 2015 following international trade disputes and a ruling from the World Trade Organization.


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