By Paul Bland for Public Justice | Friday Jun 30, 2017 · 7:45 AM MDT
Your Fourth-of-July Barbeque Isn’t As American As You Thought
The self-proclaimed nationalist, pro-rancher Trump Administration has decided to let Industrial Agriculture flat-out lie to meat-eating American consumers about where their food was raised.
The timing of this betrayal is pretty ironic. We have made summer into a celebration of American freedom, and its central image is the unencumbered back yard barbeque. And no time will this be more apparent than July 4 weekend, where chargrilled burgers and buns mix with parades, fireworks, and anthems.
Yet, there is a good chance that the meat people are grilling isn’t American at all, and they have no way of knowing—even if the package clearly reads “Product of U.S.A.”
More than 90 percent of American consumers want to know where their meat comes from, and many of those prefer to buy meat from domestic sources. So they would likely be surprised to learn that the USDA does not require country-of-origin labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products. Or more likely, they might read the words “Product of U.S.A.” on a package and incorrectly think they do know where it came from.
The official embrace of deceptive labeling isn’t just bad for consumers—it hurts independent U.S. farmers, too. Without country-of-origin labeling, corporations can (and do) pass off any of their meat as domestic, even if it was born, raised and slaughtered abroad. This turns out to give Big Ag a valuable tool. Major multinational meat packers use their international supply chains and misleading labels as leverage to drive down the prices they pay independent farmers.
So the USDA’s rules not only shroud the origins of our food in secrecy; they also actively harm hardworking U.S. ranchers. Not exactly what you might think you’re celebrating – and supporting – with your Fourth of July festivities.
But here’s what’s even more un-American: the USDA’s elimination of COOL requirements violates U.S. law.
Ranchers’ groups, represented by Public Justice, just filed a federal lawsuit arguing that the USDA’s policy violates the Meat Inspection Act, which clearly requires country-of-origin labeling on imported steaks and chops. And if you don’t believe our suit, believe the USDA itself: The department had COOL requirements in place for eight years, and it did so in order to be in compliance with the Meat Inspection Act.
In other words, the USDA knows its current policies don’t follow the law; it is just captured by corporate interests. It’s time for that to change.
Back when he was a candidate, Donald Trump promised that he would fix this problem for U.S. farmers. But immediately after the election, Trump’s team broke that promise and caved to the agriculture lobby, declaring COOL “dead as a doornail.” With this suit, we’re doing what Trump won’t—taking on big agriculture to fight for independent ranchers.
Our lawsuit has a simple premise: If our meat is labeled as a “Product of U.S.A,” we should be able to trust that it was raised here, by U.S. ranchers.
Consumers should be standing with farmers and demanding that our American iconography comply with American laws.