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