AGRIBUSINESS: USDA Country Of Origin Labeling Under Inspection

USDA’s country of origin labeling rule is under scrutiny in both the World Trade Organization and in federal court. Two schools of thought have formed on the issue: supporters, who say consumers have a right to know the country in which meats were born, raised, and slaughtered, and opponents who say the rule creates new costs for consumers.

Retailers these days often purchase boxed beef – vacuum-packed subprimal cuts, such as tenderloins – rather than an eighth of the carcass. Often times the cuts come from all over and are mixed in the box, a practice called “commingling,” and it’s this issue, says livestock economist Lee Schulz with Iowa State University, that creates so much tension.

Schulz also states that packers have added value to be able to commingle different cuts of beef to match different box beef specifications. He said the requirements also add a lot more record keeping because before you dealt with more primal, larger cuts and now you are dealing with individual cuts and more record keeping needs to be done to keep those products not commingled.

Schulz points out the market may already have spoken on this issue – if enough consumers wanted country of origin information, a niche market would already have emerged.

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