Australian beef producers are concerned that the new country of origin labels to be applied to meat, fish and produce in the US will work to their disadvantage.

The new federal guidelines take effect this week, although they will not become mandatory for two years. Under the new regulations, only items entirely raised and processed in the US will be permitted to carry a US product label. Products made from ingredients from several countries must indicate this fact on the packaging.

For example, blended or ground beef made with raw material from a number of countries must be labelled to indicate all the countries of origin in descending order by weight.

Frances Cassidy, CEO of Meat and Livestock Australia, fears that processors will find this too arduous or costly a procedure, and will be inclined to buy exclusively US beef.

“It’s going to have an impact on imported beef because our products have to be blended, because it’s lean beef and it has to blended with the fattier American beef to get the right flavour profile. Ultimately they [processors] may just decide look we can’t use Australian beef,” Cassidy told the Associated Press.

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In the US, some farmers are happy with the new labelling guidelines, as they are optimistic that it will drive demand for US beef over foreign competition. Others, however, are concerned that beef could lose out to poultry, to which the rules do not apply.

J. Patrick Boyle, president of the American Meat Institute, called the guidelines “the most costly, cumbersome and complex labelling proposal in history.”

The measure was introduced as part of this year’s much-disputed US Farm Bill. Yesterday, carried a story on another controversial issue affected by the Farm Bill, namely more neutral labelling on irradiated foods. To read that story, click here.