New Mexico rancher files lawsuit over ‘misleading’ beef labels

USDA supports misleading and false labels on beef.

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by: Jackie Kent

Posted: Feb 6, 2020 / 06:05 PM MST / Updated: Feb 7, 2020 / 12:19 PM MST

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A New Mexico rancher has filed a lawsuit against four big companies claiming their “Produced in the U.S.A.” promise is plastered on imported beef.

Attorney Blair Dunn said that sticker can be found on beef that was slaughtered in the U.S., but could have been born, raised and imported from places like Brazil, Australia and Argentina that don’t have the same environmental, handling or food safety standards as the U.S.

“They have gigantic shipping feedlots, where they’ll, for instance, stick the cattle on there from Australia, ship them across the ocean and not really subject them to any regulation, humane handling or food safety standards, [and are] pumping them full of whatever they feel like as they come across the ocean and then they come off the boats. Then, they slaughter them just moments after getting off the boats, and [are] calling that a product of the United States,” Dunn explained.

The lawsuit was just moved to federal court, claiming Tyson Foods, Cargill, JBS and National Beef Packing Company have been misleading the public with this labeling since 2015 when Congress ruled they no longer have to use Country of Origin Labeling, or “COOL rules,” on pork and beef.

“They aren’t required to follow those regulations, but that doesn’t mean they can misbrand or mislabel,” Dunn stated. “The American consumer believes they’re buying something that’s responsibly raised when in reality they’re doing quite a bit of environmental damage.”

“It feels like we’re being lied to and that’s not a good feeling,” one University of New Mexico student said after hearing about the lawsuit.

The four big companies make up more than 80% of the market, importing about $6 billion worth of beef into the U.S. every year, the lawsuit states.

Dunn said the alleged misbranding is an estimated $30 billion hit to American producers in the last four years, including New Mexico ranchers, who the big companies are paying less for their American-raised cattle.

If bringing beef in and they’re paying 70-cents a pound, just as an example, that’s fairly close to what they pay for imported beef- they used to pay the American producer $3 or more for their beef. Now, they’re paying them $1.50 to $2 if they’re lucky, but the price to the consumer hasn’t changed. All that’s happened is the money that used to go to the American ranchers is now going to profits for these big companies,” Dunn said.

Dunn said one way consumers can be sure where a beef product comes from is to look for a sticker that says, “Born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S.A.” KRQE News 13 reached out to the defense attorney but did not hear back.