The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) has finalised amendments for country-of-origin product labels in an attempt to give clarity to consumers and avoid confusion.

Proposals to make changes governing voluntary ‘Product of USA’ and ‘Made in the USA’ labels for meat, poultry and eggs were put out for consultation in March last year. The intention was to “resolve consumer confusion” pertaining to such labels on the origin of products regulated by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), a unit within the USDA.

Under the new rules, labels claiming US origin can only apply to products “derived from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed” in the country. They are due to apply by 1 January 2026 but the USDA is encouraging application “as soon as practicable” from the the announcement yesterday (11 March).

Previously, such labels could be displayed on products derived from animals imported to the US and slaughtered locally, and also on imported meat that had been repackaged or further processed in the country.

“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,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.

“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.”

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While labels claiming the Product of USA or Made in the USA designation remain voluntary for meat, poultry and eggs, they need to be pre-approved by the FSIS and backed by trace documentation.

The USDA added that the rule changes also allow for other voluntary US origin claims on such products but suppliers will need to put a description on the package pertaining to the “preparation and processing steps” initiated locally as evidence of the claims.

Farm Action, a US body fighting for a fairer meat sector and to “stop corporate monopolies”, welcomed the new rules.

The organisation said it had been pressing for a reform of the Product of USA labelling system for six years to halt “fraudulent” practises by “multinational meatpacking corporations” putting the labels on imported meat repackaged in the US.

“The latest Census of Agriculture confirmed that our country is losing an alarming number of farmers and ranchers – the Product of USA labelling rule is a critical step for supporting those we still have and creating opportunities for a new generation,” Angela Huffman, president and co-founder of Farm Action, said in a statement.

“Thank you to all who joined the fight with us, including President Biden, for urging the USDA to reform its Product of USA label, and to the USDA for following through with this important reform.”

Vilsack also announced a financing package yesterday for small meat and poultry processors as part of the Biden administration’s efforts in the past couple of years to boost competition in an industry dominated by large players such as Tyson Foods.

The USDA is awarding $9.5m in grants to 42 projects under the so-called Local Meat Capacity programme. They apply to “simplified equipment projects” for processing equipment such as meat grinders, stuffers, and smokers, with the awards ranging from $10,000 to $250,000.

“The Local Meat Capacity grants are addressing critical processing infrastructure needs for local and regional livestock and poultry producers, ensuring their products get to market efficiently and cost effectively, which supports local economies, new jobs, and more choices for consumers,” Vilsack explained.