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Congress Repeals Country-of-Origin Labeling for Meat, Effective Immediately

Congress Repeals Country-of-Origin Labeling for Meat, Effective Immediately



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Congress has ruled that the meat industry will not need to identify the origin of meat sold in the US

The ruling will put small American farmers, who often make their living by advocating that their meat is raised and processed domestically, at a great disadvantage.

As expected, Congress has officially repealed country-of-origin labeling for meat — meaning that retailers and producers will no longer be required to identify where an animal was raised, slaughtered, or processed. The repeal has gone into immediate effect.

First introduced in 2009, country-of-origin labeling has been especially valuable to the small American farms that make a living by promoting their livestock as being born and raised in the U.S., and to consumer groups that have advocated for transparency in the food industry, especially as shoppers have become increasingly invested in where their food comes from.

The same origin labeling law, was challenged by Canada and Mexico, two vitally important trade partners who have argued that the labeling laws only served to discourage Americans from purchasing meat that was raised or processed outside the U.S. The ruling is particularly troubling for ranchers in northern border states which compete directly with Canada.

The World Trade Organization ruled in favor of Canada and Mexico, and approved both countries to impose up to $1 billion in tariffs on American goods.

Lawmakers then quickly added the provision to a $1.15 billion spending bill, which has now passed into law. American meat producers have accused Congress of allowing international partners to “once again deliberately deceive consumers.”


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.


Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

This story received an honorable mention in the 2018 Society for Advancing Business and Editing and Writing Awards (retail category).

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL repeal. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.”

“The very idea of labeling beef ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible.”

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.