August 13, 2018

To Protect America’s Food Supply and Families, UFCW Supports Better Meat Labeling

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), issued the following statement after submitting comments to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in support of the pending Organization for Competitive Markets (OCM) and American Grassfed Association’s (AGA) Petition to Change the Food Safety and Inspection Services Standards and Labeling Policy Book on “Product of U.S.A.” FSIS-2018-0024.

“Allowing meat that comes from outside our country to be sold as a U.S. product is misleading, unsafe and wrong. American consumers deserve to know where their meat comes from. 

“Updating current labeling requirements will not only bring families more certainty about the meat they are serving or eating, it will create and protect sustainable jobs for hard-working communities across the country.  

“Our union family strongly supports this petition and encourages the USDA to do the same.”

BACKGROUND:

Currently, meat that is imported from other countries but further processed in the U.S. receives the “Product of U.S.A.” label. The pending OCM-AGA petition would revise “Product of the U.S.A.” label requirements so that it is limited only to domestically born, raised, slaughtered and processed meat.

UFCW supports the OCM-AGA petition because, like the now repealed Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) law, it would provide a crucial premium for cattle ranchers that would help facilitate the rebuilding of the U.S. cattle herd and bolster additional good, family-sustaining jobs in meat processing.

The droughts of 2011 and 2012 forced American ranchers to liquidate the U.S. cattle herd to its lowest level since 1941[1]. In the wake of the droughts, ranchers were faced with burned-up pastures and high feed prices, which forced them to send their female heifers to slaughter rather than to retain them for breeding and herd rebuilding. Consequently, the U.S. cattle herd fell to its lowest level since 1941, causing nine beef processing plants to shut down[2] and the loss of thousands of good beef packing jobs[3].

Studies have shown that consumers will pay more to know where their food comes from.

The recent Brazilian meat inspection scandal makes OCM-AGA Petition especially timely.

In June 2017, the Trump administration imposed a ban on Brazilian beef imports after USDA border inspections revealed that the meat was rotten and contaminated. USDA inspectors also rejected 1.9 million pounds or about 11% of Brazilian beef imports in the wake of 20 Brazilian meat inspectors being arrested for taking bribes.

Independent auditors had already documented the shortcomings of this FSIS program prior to this scandal, but this Brazilian scandal provides even more evidence of the dramatic failure of the USDA’s FSIS foreign plant equivalency program to protect food safety.

The failed program also poses an unprecedented threat to the entire U.S. beef sector, which could be further decimated should contamination from comingled Brazilian beef cause a loss of consumer confidence in the U.S. beef supplies.

As it stands now, consumers have no way of differentiating U.S. from Brazilian beef. If the U.S. beef supply were to be contaminated with comingled Brazilian beef, many consumers may simply stop buying beef all together.  This could cause irreparable harm to the beef sector and could result in more plant shutdowns and the loss of even more good-paying, sustainable jobs.

The OCM-AGA petition would allow consumers to purchase domestic U.S. beef clearly labeled from a U.S. supply chain, thus inoculating U.S. domestic beef from a catastrophic loss in consumer confidence.

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The UFCW is the largest private sector union in the United States, representing 1.3 million professionals and their families in grocery stores, meatpacking, food processing, retail shops and other industries.

Our members help put food on our nation’s tables and serve customers in all 50 states, Canada and Puerto Rico. Learn more about the UFCW at www.ufcw.org.


[1] NAFTA Negotiations and Its American Beef, R-CALF USA Website:  https://www.r-calfusa.com/nafta-negotiations-american-beef/

[2] Kay, S. (2015, October 5). Are packing plants on the endangered species list?  Beef Magazine. (Supplemented with additional UFCW research.) Available at:  http://www.beefmagazine.com/blog/are-packing-plants-endangered-species-list

[3] Bureau of Labor Statistics, Current Employment Statistics. All employees, animal, except poultry, slaughtering, seasonally adjusted. Available at https://www.bls.gov/ces/