Imperfect as it is, “Product of the USA” labeling is good enough for government work, according to a 2-to-1 ruling by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.
On appeal was the dismissal of a 2020 case brought by New Mexico cattle ranchers Robin Thornton and Michael Lucero. They claimed foreign beef often is mislabeled as “Product of the USA”
So-called “Big meat” including Tyson Foods, Cargill Meat Solutions, JBS USA, and National Beef Packing Co., were all named as defendants in the federal court case. The case was on appeal to the 10th Circuit after being dismissed by the District Court last year. The Appeals court ruling affirmed the dismissal.
It means cattle born and raised in another country may still be sold as “product of the USA” if some simple processing occurs in the United States.
“Allowing complaints to impose (a different label standard) would impose a different requirement from what USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has already approved as consistent with the Federal Meat Inspection Act,” said Denver Circuit Judge Nancy Moritz.
She wrote the 21-page ruling.
The FSIS permits the “Protect of the USA” label on meat that is “further processed” in the United States. It’s a system that is all but certain to fool consumers, according to the US meat companies.
Denver’s Senior Circuit Court Judge Carlos Lucero wrote a minority opinion. He said it’s misleading to put a “Product of the USA” label on products from animals primarily raised outside of the United States.
The cattlemen also brought state misleading labeling claims, and the 10th Circuit ruling found the state issues were preempted by federal law.
Judge Lucero said the case was “a paradigmatic example of the federal-state balance Congress intended” in enacting the Federal Meat Inspection Act (MNIA). He said if consumers are deceived by the label, “Product of the USA,” then that label violates both the FMIA and USDA regulations.
“Congress most assuredly could not have intended to rubber stamp deception as to the national origin of beef,” the judge wrote.
Cattle producers and consumers haven’t are not giving up. They are now campaigning for the American Beef Labeling Act (S.2716), sponsored by senators from both political parties,
It will reinstate beef’s Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (M-COOL). It guarantees that consumers know where their beef was born, raised, slaughtered, and processed.
Cattlemen believe it also helps create a level playing field for American ranchers by assisting them to get a fair price.
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