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Livestock groups call on Congress to restore labeling requirements for meat products

Packaged pork in a case at a HyVee grocery store in Columbia, Missouri. Some livestock groups want all beef and pork products to clearly disclose where the livestock was born, raised and processed.
Skyler Rossi
/
Harvest Public Media
Packaged pork in a case at a HyVee grocery store in Columbia, Missouri. Some livestock groups want all beef and pork products to clearly disclose where the livestock was born, raised and processed.

Congress ended mandatory labeling for pork and beef in 2015. Now some livestock groups want to see labeling requirements included in the upcoming farm bill that would make it clear where livestock was born, raised and slaughtered.

Some livestock groups are pushing for Congress to reinstate labeling requirements in the upcoming farm bill to make it clear where meat comes from.

Mandatory country of origin labels would require all meat products to include details about where the livestock was born, raised and processed.

A similar requirement went into effect in 2009, but it was reversed for beef and pork products in 2015 after a World Trade Organization ruling allowed Canada and Mexico to impose over $1 billion in tariffs against the U.S., unless the requirements were removed.

The labels would help consumers better understand what they are purchasing, said Tim Gibbons, the communication director for the Missouri Rural Crisis Center, a group that wants to see the label requirement return.

He said it could also help address concentration in the meat industry at a time when 85% of the meatpacking industry is controlled by just four beef processing companies.

“One of the main purposes of a representative democracy is to enforce antitrust laws so that markets are open, fair and competitive,” Gibbons said. “Country of origin labeling is a first step in ensuring competition in markets.”

Earlier this year, the USDA narrowed which products can state “Product of USA.” Beginning in 2026, a voluntary rule allows only meat from animals born, raised, slaughtered and processed in the U.S. to have this label.

Montana-based livestock group R-CALF USA called the voluntary rule a step in the right direction in a March press release, but also called for a mandatory rule as soon as possible.

“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,” CEO Bill Bullard stated.

Industry impact

Research has shown that the costs of mandatory country of origin labeling outweigh the benefits, said Derrell Peel, a livestock marketing specialist at Oklahoma State University Extension.

“That involves a tremendous amount of extra cost on the part of the feedlot industry, the packing industry and retailers to maintain records and to sort and preserve supply chains for those different products and keep them separate,” Peel said.

A USDA economic review following the previous country of origin requirements found that mandatory labeling raised costs of production, processing and marketing, but did not raise consumer demand. This led to economic losses for producers, packers, retailers and consumers, according to the report.

Most consumers say they support more-detailed information about where meat comes from on packaging, according to a 2017 Consumer Federation of America survey. But Peel said other factors might have more weight when consumers are deciding what to purchase at the grocery store.

“It's a piece of information for consumers,” he said. “If it's available, it might impact some consumers’ decisions. Most of the studies that have been done have said that it doesn't have much impact on consumers relative to price and other quality indicators of the product.”

A pork loin states "Product of USA" at a HyVee grocery store in Columbia, Missouri. A new voluntary rule narrows which products can include this label, beginning in 2026.
Skyler Rossi
/
Harvest Public Media
A pork loin states "Product of USA" at a HyVee grocery store in Columbia, Missouri. A new voluntary rule narrows which products can include this label, beginning in 2026.

Matt Teagarden is the CEO of the Kansas Livestock Association, a trade group with about 5,700 members.

The association supports a voluntary policy like the recent rule, Teagarden said, since it allows producers who want to market their products as “Made in USA” to do so without requiring everyone to bear the costs. Producers whose brand is focused on its locality may also turn to a “farm-to-table” concept, or market their meat as local to their state or region, he said.

“There may be greater opportunity to even push that down to a more local level and market that product and connect with consumers in that way,” he said.

A group of U.S. senators has introduced a bill coined the American Beef Labeling Act for multiple years in hopes of reinstating the mandatory labeling.

U.S. Sen. Mike Round, R-SD, said this week that he is working to add mandatory labeling to the Senate version of the farm bill. Country of origin labeling requirements are not currently in either the House or the Senate version.

The current farm bill will expire in September.

This story was produced in partnership with Harvest Public Media, a collaboration of public media newsrooms in the Midwest. It reports on food systems, agriculture and rural issues.

I edit stories about food, agriculture and rural communities for Harvest Public Media. I’m based in Columbia, Missouri. Email me at SkylerRossi@kcur.org