Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Country of Origin Labeling on Meat Products

New labeling requirements for meat products are now in effect which should hopefully better inform consumers about the origin of meat offered to them in stores.

One contributor to our site lives in a state that shares a border with Mexico. He phoned today with concerns about labeling he saw on a package of ground beef he found at a Walmart store. It might be helpful then to review the guidelines for this new labeling. If you shop for meat products of US origin, you need to check for this particular labeling:

Muscle Cut Labels

United States Origin - only meat from livestock that are born, raised and processed in the US may say "Product of the US."

Ground Meat Product Labels

United States Origin - only meat from livestock that are born, raised and processed into ground meat in the US may say "Product of the US."

What that contributor discovered of concern to him was a package of ground beef that was labeled, "Product of USA, Canada, Mexico" He asked if he should believe that the beef in the package came from all three countries.

I explained to him the problem I saw with the new regulations as they pertain to ground meat. It's possible that this package actually contains beef from all three countries, and it might also contain beef from just two countries; perhaps Mexico and Canada. It's also possible that this package actually contains beef sourced only from Mexico but was produced in a US plant that typically also sources raw materials from Canada and the US for other products.

Unfortunately, the consumer still won't know the country of origin from such a label. Ground beef may be sourced from different countries to be processed in one US plant and the label need only reflect the countries from which the company typically sourced its raw materials for products over the past few months.

In the US we also typically source leaner beef from grass fed livestock from New Zealand & Australia, countries that may be listed on some labels of ground beef.

We also import young cattle from Mexico & Canada to be fed & fattened in the US. Meat products from such cattle will carry multiple countries of origin on their labels.

If the consumer desires a truly domestic meat product, they will need to seek the "Product of the US" label.

The phone conversation I had with this contributor was overheard by shoppers in the Walmart store. At the end of our conversation he told me that nearby shoppers had removed packages of meat from their carts and returned them to the meat case. He, and perhaps the nearby shoppers, had concerns that the ground beef offered at this Walmart store was likely sourced from Mexico and produced in a plant that also processes meat from the US and Canada.

Unfortunately, the new label does nothing to designate the actual country of origin of ground beef for consumers.

After shoppers decided against their meat purchases, our contributor was asked to leave the store by Walmart personnel. While I've proudly never set foot in a Walmart store, he is quite accustomed to such treatment. He's learned repeatedly that Walmart does not like information sharing with their customers, even accidental sharing from overheard cell phone conversations.

It could be the new country of origin labeling is an improvement but not yet satisfactory for consumers, at least with ground meat products.

Sources for domestic meat & seafood products can be found in our Gourmet Food/Drink department.

Mary - Web person for FindUSMade.com


  1. Thank you for the good information about the meat. I have a question though, Could the meat in the package be mixed with all those places or is it the meat came from one place with a label saying more than one place? I didn't quite understand.
    Thanks again,

  2. Hi Anita,

    Your confusion is actually the problem that I see. You will not know the actual origin of the ground meat in the package. There could be meat in the package from those 3 countries or there could be meat in the package from only 1 country and you won’t know which country.

    With ground meat, a plant is only required to identify the countries from which they typically sourced materials the previous 2 months. A label for ground meat only gives you a choice of countries from which the meat could possibly have come, not the actual particular country of origin.

    If you are buying ground meat, look for a package that states "Product of the US" and you can be certain of the origin. It comes from a plant that only processes meat from the US and the contents can only be US raw materials. My own local market has such packages so I expect they can be found in other supermarkets.

    Our contributor left the Walmart store in favor of his local market. They assured him the ground meat was a product of the US and even retrieved the boxes from their meat department to show him so he could identify the plant and origin. A business with nothing to hide will readily answer shoppers' questions and address their concerns. Please don’t hesitate to inquire about products when you shop. You’re the consumer and you deserve solid answers.


  3. Thank you for answering my question. But that brings me to another question. If the meat has something wrong with it and needs to be recalled how on earth will they ever know where it came from? You bet the next time I go to the store I will surely ask where the meat comes from.

  4. Just because you the consumer won't know the actual country of origin, doesn't mean this can't be determined on the back end. In the event of a recall, officials would start with packaging and/or your point of purchase, perhaps your local market. There's a chain that can be followed from the supermarket to the meat processor, to the locations that provided raw material. The processor knows what was available and processed on any given day; they just aren't required to provide that information on the label of ground meat.