Ag Policy Blog

Vilsack on Product of USA Versus COOL

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Friday the distinction between a Product of USA label versus the Country of Origin Label is that COOL was a mandatory program while Product of USA is a voluntary one. (DTN file photo)

During his announcement Friday on competition issues, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack also weighed into USDA's announcement at the beginning of July to review the "Product of USA" label.

The Federal Trade Commission came out the same day with an indication that they were going to be quite insistent on defining what made in America are made in US product means. The FTC recognizes that USDA has jurisdiction over the product labels that are voluntarily put on meat, poultry, and processed eggs. So USDA immediately responded.

"We complemented the FTC on that action and their space. We're doing a comprehensive review of labeling in our space -- meat, poultry, processed eggs -- because we want to avoid the possibility in the risk that consumers are confused about precisely what that label means. And we don't think it's fair for folks to get a market advantage when they create the misunderstanding or misrepresentation, that everything that was done with a steak was done here," Vilsack said.

Too often, meat is imported into the U.S., blended with meat from U.S. cattle or other livestock, then able to be labeled as "Product of USA" because it was processed at some level in the country.

Speaking at Rustic Cuts, a small meat locker in Council Bluffs, Iowa, Vilsack said the meat sold at the facility could be easily labeled because the owners -- Jake Driver and Rick Larson -- know that the meat comes directly from their own farm operations. So they can easily label their meat "Product of USA."

"These guys have no problem with that. Why? Because the cattle come from their farms goes to a local locker, it comes back to them, they butcher it, they sell it, they know they can tell you precisely what farm it came from maybe even the day it came from, what was fed and so forth. So they can slap a label there and say, 'By God, this is not only just a product of the US, this is product of Larson farms, this is product of the Driver family so that we want to create clarity."

Vilsack added, "And we think with clarity, we don't get ourselves in a lot of trouble with the international trading regime, because we don't want to do that, we don't want retaliation against our farmers. But we can give consumers more clarity. And we are intent on doing that."

A participant noted the mandatory Country of Origin Label (COOL) was shot down by the World Trade Organization when Canada and Mexico sued, leading Congress to repeal the law.

"The difference was it was mandatory. We tried to do as a mandatory level. This is not a mandatory label, this is voluntary label. And this is basically defining what that means, Ok? It's not basically saying you have to do this. It's saying if you do it, here's what this has to be. And if you can't prove that, it's that, then you shouldn't be allowed to put the label on it, because then you're creating a misrepresentation, or lack of clarity about this product. And that's not fair. And it's very consistent with what the Federal Trade Commission is trying to do with everything else. Cars, equipment, everything else."

More details on USDA's competition announcement:…

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