Press Release

February 1, 2013
Cardin, Mikulski Tell USDA: Rules On Labeling Meat Origin Must Put Americans First

Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (Both D-MD), have signed a letter with a bipartisan coalition of Senators in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Trade Representative to work with consumers, ranchers and meatpackers to make sure that American families know where their meat comes from.

The World Trade Organization recently required the USDA to adjust its rules requiring American retailers to clearly label where meat was raised and processed.  The WTO said that while the U.S. can require meat labeling, current U.S. Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) rules do not meet WTO standards. 

“Consumers have the right to know where their food was raised. The best poultry in the world is grown right here in Maryland, and when Marylanders purchase chicken at their local supermarket they may expect that they are buying fresh local chicken. However, the only way consumers will know for sure if they can look for a label clearly identifying the country of origin of the meat and poultry they purchase,” Senator Cardin said. “It’s time for USDA to act on this long overdue provision from the 2008 Farm Bill to make sure American families know where their dinner came from.”

“Americans deserve to know where their food comes from so that they can buy the food that is best for them and their families,” Senator Mikulski said. “The USDA needs to take action and bring their rules up to date to better provide Americans with accurate information about their food.”

The Senators, who were joined by 29 colleagues from both sides of the aisle, want to make sure the updated rules still ensure consumers know the origin of their food, giving them the option to buy American meat if they choose. 

“Congress intended that COOL provide as much information as possible about the origin of all meat cuts to consumers,” the Senators wrote to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk.  “Some flexibility is needed, but such flexibility cannot come at the expense of providing reliable information to families about the national origin of meat products.”

The bipartisan coalition also said that the USDA should host a public comment period to allow agriculture workers and consumers to weigh in on any new proposals.  The Senators’ letter is backed by the National Farmers Union and the Consumers Union.

“Consumers have a right to know where their food comes from and U.S. farmers and ranchers want to be able to tell them,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson.  “USDA and USTR should take even stronger regulatory actions to make sure that COOL provides meaningful information about the origins of meat and other products.”

“We thank the Senators for their leadership on this issue, and hope that a regulatory fix can be achieved,” said Jean Halloran, Director of Food Policy Initiatives with Consumers Union, policy division of Consumer Reports.  “Country-of-origin labeling provides consumers with vital information that allows them to make informed choices about the food they eat.”

The bipartisan letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk is available online HERE.  It is signed by 31 Senators, including John Barrasso (R-WY), Mark Begich (D-AK), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), Michael Enzi (R-WY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Al Franken (D-MN), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Charles Grassley (R-IA), Tom Harkin (D-IA), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tim Johnson (D-SD), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Claire McCaskill (D-MO), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Thune (R-SD), Tom Udall (D-NM), David Vitter (R-LA), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Ron Wyden (D-OR).