COLUMBUS, Ohio — "Product of the USA" doesn't always mean "Made in the USA."

What You Need To Know

  • The USDA will review its product-origin labeling system     

  • The decision comes after the FTC codified its "Made in USA" labeling process

  • Each week, Chuck Ringwalt and Andy Vance discuss a topic of concern involving agriculture

The United States Department of Agriculture is set to review its labeling system after the Federal Trade Commission issued a ruling that would make "Made in the USA" labeling more specific.

“The final rule provides substantial benefits to the public by protecting businesses from losing sales to dishonest competitors and protecting purchasers seeking to purchase American-made goods,” FTC Commissioner Rohit Chopra said in a July release.

The FTC rule codifies the commission enforcement policy regarding U.S.-origin claims. According to the commission, the rule will "increase deterrence of Made in USA fraud and seek restitution for victims."

Shortly after the FTC ruling, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said, "Today, the Federal Trade Commission took important steps to enhance its ability to enforce the Made in USA standard. I congratulate the FTC on strengthening this important protection for American consumers. USDA will complement the FTC’s efforts with our own initiative on labeling for products regulated by FSIS, an area of consumer labeling where USDA has a long tradition of protecting consumers from false and misleading labels."

"Country of origin labeling, it's a topic that's been discussed, maybe cussed and discussed depending on who you ask, for going on 20 years now," agriculture expert Andy Vance said. "The issue is that the U.S. meat industry is highly integrated across the entire scope of North America, so it isn't just U.S.-born, raised, processed meat that you might see at the grocery store. You could be looking at meat from Mexico or Canada as well."

Vance said for a lot of the cattle-producing regions in the high plains, it may be easier to acquire Feeder cattle from Canada.

"That makes the process as labeling "Made in the USA" really thorny because what happens when I'm a cow, calf producer. I raise a calf. I ship it to a feed lot in Alberta, Canada and then the rancher in Alberta maybe sends that finished animal back into the U.S. for slaughter, process and ultimately sale into the retail market. Well, what's the origin of that animal? Is it the U.S.? Is it Canada?" Vance explained.

Vance said it's a mixture of the two.

"That label that you're seeing, that says 'Product of the USA' could be misleading. It doesn't really tell the whole story and consumers have this interest of knowing where their food comes from, but the reality of where your food comes from is maybe a little more complex than you realize," Vance said. 

Regional processors also differ in opinions on proper labeling.

"You have some groups of cattle producers who are really vehement that they really want to see a label that says, 'Made in the USA' that every stage of that animal's process, that life cycle and on through that pack of meat in the grocery store took place here in the U.S., but then you have others who say, 'That doesn't make any sense because if we have reciprocity in terms of food safety with a country like Canada as an example, why don't we want to exclude them from our market? We sell cattle to them. We sell beef to them,' and vice versa."

Vance said he expects some change to come out of the USDA's review.

"There seems to be too much momentum not to see some sort of change happen," he said.