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Cattle groups sue USDA over meat labeling

Cattle groups sue USDA over meat labeling

The organizations say the Tariff Act of 1930 needs to be followed

By Diego Flammini
News Reporter

Two U.S. cattle organizations have filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Agriculture for participating in the undercutting of cattle producers.

Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund (R-CALF) and Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) allege the USDA knowingly helps meatpackers label imported beef products as domestic products, which reduces the income of domestic cattle producers.

By not labelling imported beef products, the USDA is in violation of the Federal Meat Inspection Act, says Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF.

“The Tariff Act of 1930 (which is part of the Federal Meat Inspection Act) requires pretty much all imported articles to labeled as from their country of origin, unless they undergo substantial transformation in the United States,” Bullard told today. “It’s our position that beef products are to be labeled all the way to the consumer, but that’s not what the USDA is doing.”

Bill Bullard

Once a beef product enters the country, the USDA considers it a domestic product after it undergoes any transformation.

“That (transformation) includes unwrapping and re-wrapping the product,” Bullard said. “Then the meatpacker is authorized to put a ‘Product of U.S.A.’ label on it.”

These measures impact revenue streams for U.S. cattle producers.

Consumers would rather purchase locally produced beef but aren’t necessarily afforded the ability to do so due to the USDA’s actions, Bullard said.

 “When we had (imported) beef labeled in the marketplace from May 2013 to the end of 2015, cattle producers received the highest nominal prices in the history of their industry,” he said. “And beef demand remained very strong. When COOL was repealed, we saw our cattle prices fall and we are now struggling to maintain levels from five or six years ago.”

The provisions allowing any meat transformation to be labelled as American were in place before the Country of Origin Labeling law (COOL) came into effect in the U.S.

When Congress implemented COOL in 2002, imported meat had to retain its country of origin label through retail sale.

But once lawmakers repealed COOL in 2016, the USDA reverted back to its old ways, Bullard said.

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