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Who Fed the Beef?

Un-American USDA meat.
By Ceci Dale-Cesmat

Country of origin labels are required on clothes, computers, even chew-bones for your dog, but not on the meat you buy for your family. The only label you’d likely see on meat would give the name of the cut, its weight, price and the safe handling instructions...and maybe a “USDA” designation.

Most people think that “USDA” shield means the meat was raised in the United States. Wrong. USDA stands for United States Department of Agriculture and only means the meat may have been inspected or graded. Every month, without any way of knowing, Americans eat over 320 million pounds of meat from foreign countries. And, of all imported meat, less than one percent ever gets inspected.

This is a consumer issue and a major concern for American ranchers who want to see the “Made in America” label reserved for those producing the safest product, under the strictest health and environmental standards in the world. For years, ranchers have wanted to see all beef and lamb at the retail level identified with its country of origin. They want the American food shopper to be able to recognize their American product...instead of being misled into believing that all meat in the counter was born and raised in the U.S.

There is legislation in Washington, D.C., that could make that happen–the Country of Origin Meat Labeling Act of 1999, H.R.1144, sponsored by Congressman Helen Chenoweth (R-ID). Meat labeling laws have existed since the 1930s and all imported meat is currently labeled with its country of origin. However, that label is “lost” at the processing plant. When the meat, foreign or domestic, leaves the plant, it is considered to be a U.S. product. Ironically, that means our American born and raised meat can’t even be labeled as such because it also loses its identity under current practices. So, the big packer or processor knows exactly where the meat comes from...but you don’t.

H.R.1144 would guarantee that the label of origin would follow the meat all the way to the final purchaser, and that “U.S. meat” could only be that which is born, raised its entire life, and slaughtered in the United States.
That seems simple enough, but even though ranchers and consumers both want this, big packing companies, processors, and feeders of foreign cattle oppose it. Why? Because foreign meat–much less expensive to produce under lesser standards–can now be used and sold as though it were U.S. meat.

To combat this stiff opposition, a coalition of producers and consumers has been formed to secure passage of meaningful federal country of origin labeling legislation. For more information, to join or offer support, contact Demand American Meat Now, P.O. Box 1181, Boise, Idaho 83701. Call toll free 877-4USMEAT. And, ask your congressman to sign on in support of the only one of several labeling bills that guarantees your right to know if the U.S. meat you purchase is really home-grown.

Ceci Dale-Cesmat is a range conservationist with the Natural Resources Conservation Service, and involved in the ranching industry in Lassen County, California.

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