As livestock and agricultural markets continue to decline, legislators in Washington, D.C., have come together to work on bills aimed at improving the industry as a whole.

South Dakota Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune introduced the U.S. Beef Integrity Act aimed at “product of the U.S.A” voluntary labeling that is currently used on beef. Rounds, who is also juggling an appropriations bill and a defense bill in the senate right now, said that protecting U.S. beef producers should be a top priority as the economy slips out from under them.

As it stands today, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not require that beef be born, raised and slaughtered in the U.S. to carry the “product of the U.S.A” label. This loophole, as Rounds called it, has caused major headaches since 2015 when country of origin labeling (COOL) was taken away.

“Today’s beef labeling rules are misleading and allow beef and beef products from cattle that are born, raised and slaughtered in foreign countries to be labeled as U.S. beef,” Rounds said.

While “product of the U.S.A” labeling is a voluntary label that is not required for beef sold in the U.S., Rounds said he imagines a majority of foreign beef finds ways to make sure that label is placed on meat. USDA does not track or have information on what percentage of beef uses that label in the U.S.

Like most bills introduced in Washington, Rounds said it’ll be “real close to moving a mountain” to get this bill passed in the Senate, but he said he looks forward to seeing who opposes the bill and why.

“Some organizations just like the idea of being able to sell foreign products as U.S.A,” he said in a phone interview Oct. 30.

The plus side for U.S. producers, Rounds said, is that augmenting the ruling on a voluntary label like “product of the U.S.A” should be an easier fight than requiring COOL. The World Trade Organization typically gets involved with fights over COOL, as mandatory labeling could “discriminate” against countries, he said, but “product of the U.S.A.,” as it is voluntary, should not be subjected to the same scrutiny.

In addition to Thune’s and Rounds’ bill, Reps. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., and Roger Marshall, R-Kan., introduced the Real Marketing Edible Artificials Truthfully (MEAT) Act.

This bill looks at cell-based meat being labeled as “meat” and hopes to curb a trend that has already seen many non-dairy products get labeled as “milk.” The MEAT Act does not target “product of the U.S.A” labeling, which South Dakota Farmers Union President Doug Sombke said is a mistake.

“Consumers need to know what they are eating, and this act prevents cell-cultured proteins from being labeled as meat. So, this act is an important and necessary first step,” Sombke said in a news release. “What I would like to see added to the MEAT Act is the requirement that meat also receives labeling to inform consumers where the meat they consume was raised.”

Reach Reporter Jager Robinson at 800-888-1380, email jager.robinson@lee.net or follow on Twitter @Jager_Robinson.

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