Beef industry gets partial labeling victory

(Photo courtesy K-State Research and Extension.)

Beef and agriculture groups generally welcomed a March 11 announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack approving voluntary “Product of USA” labels.

Vilsack made the announcement that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had finalized a rule regarding the labels’ use at the National Farmers Union Annual Convention in Scottsdale, Arizona. Labels are restricted to beef, poultry and egg products in which every step of production occurred inside the United States. The USDA said the policy “align[s] the voluntary ‘Product of USA’ label claim with consumer understanding of what the claim means.”

Partial victory

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association said in response, “NCBA has been committed to finding solutions to this problem ever since a producer-led NCBA working group raised the alarm, years ago, that imported beef could be mislabeled as a Product of the USA incorrectly at the end of the supply chain. We appreciate USDA’s effort to address this loophole. During the implementation period, NCBA’s focus will remain on ensuring that these changes result in the opportunity for producer premiums while remaining trade compliant.”

Because the label program is voluntary and not mandatory, as some cattle groups have been urging, reaction was mixed. Some groups said the move was only a positive first step toward the “mandatory country of origin labeling” they want. Bill Bullard, CEO of R-CALF, said, “While this is an important step in the right direction, Congress needs to pass MCOOL as quickly as possible to require all beef sold in grocery stores to be labeled as to where the animal from which the beef was derived was born, raised and slaughtered. Only then will consumers be informed as to which beef was produced by American cattle farmers and ranchers and which beef was produced under some foreign country’s food safety regime.”

The USDA’s final labeling rule allows the voluntary “Product of USA” or “Made in the USA” label claim to be used on meat, poultry and egg products only when they are derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S.  The labeling move was supported by petitions, thousands of comments from stakeholders and data from a nationwide consumer survey.

Processors don’t need prior approval but must maintain documentation supporting their claims. Businesses seeking to use the label must comply with the rule by Jan. 1, 2026.

Public comments   

The final rule also allows other voluntary U.S. origin claims on meat, poultry and egg products, but those claims will need to be supported on the labels and in documentation. The USDA has published updated labeling guidance, which will be open for public comment for 60 days after publishing in the Federal Register. Public comments can be submitted at

“Today’s announcement is a vital step toward consumer protection and builds on the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to bolster trust and fairness in the marketplace where smaller processors can compete,” Vilsack said. “This final rule will ensure that when consumers see ‘Product of USA’ they can trust the authenticity of that label and know that every step involved, from birth to processing, was done here in America.”

David Murray can be reached at [email protected].