Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announcement Creates Hope Among American Cattle Producers
The Product of the U.S.A. label will solely belong to livestock born, raised and harvested in the U.S. announced Tom Vilsack, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. The proposed ruling was announced today, March 6, during the National Farmers Union Convention held in San Francisco (Want to hear the announcement for yourself? Click here. Skip ahead to minute 58:10)
“There are folks today, who put that label (Product of USA or Made in the USA) on meat packages. We surveyed people in the country and asked, “what do you think this means?” They said, “whatever is done happens in this country.” This label has been put on meat that could be born someplace else, slaughtered someplace else and packaged someplace else. Proposed ruling says if you want to use this label (Product of USA or Made in the USA) for beef, poultry, pork, it can only be used if the critter was born here, raised here and slaughtered here,” Vilsack said.
Currently, any livestock packaged in the U.S. – regardless of where they were born, raised, harvested – can carry the label. The USDA proposed ruling in the 2023 Farm Bill would limit the use of the Product of the U.S.A. label to livestock born, raised and harvested in the U.S.
“I appreciate Sen. Rounds work on this proposed ruling. This proposed ruling levels the playing field for U.S. producers because consumers will know where their beef comes from.,” said Doug Sombke, President of South Dakota Farmers Union. “The truth is consumers trust U.S. meat because of the safety and humane treatment standards our cattle producers follow. And because this label will be protected by the USDA, consumers can trust the labeling and U.S. cattle producers’ will once again havea competitive advantage over foreign beef.”
Truth in labeling has been a policy focus for South Dakota Farmers Union for nearly three decades. South Dakota Senator Mike Rounds contacted Sombke with the good news a few days ahead of the announcement.
“When Senator Rounds told me the news, it was surreal,” Sombke said. “South Dakota Farmers Union members have advocated for truth in labeling for many years. This gets us one step closer to MCOOL (Mandatory County of Origin Labeling). Polls show consumers want to know where their food comes from.”
Member Scott Kolousek is among these advocates. A Wessington Springs cattle producer, Kolousek and his wife, Amber, raise cattle with his parents, Dick and Janet Kolousek. Over the last decade, he and Amber worked alongside many other South Dakota family farmers asking D.C. policy makers for truth in labeling.
“We have been fighting for this so long. Hearing this news, is a big relief,” Kolousek said.
In 2020, Kolousek worked with others to rally area cattle producers to share their concerns with policy makers. And in 2022 Kolousek joined with many family farmers and ranchers to share concerns with the Department of Justice during the National Farmers Union D.C. Fly-In.
“I was starting to lose hope,” Kolousek said. “Vilsack’s announcement makes me feel like what we have been doing has been fruitful. USDA’s actions show us that leaders in D.C. are hearing us. This proposed ruling will allow us to differentiate our product from foreign beef.”
Until this USDA proposed ruling in the 2023 Farm Bill, any meat, regardless of where it was born, raised and harvested, could be repackaged in the U.S. and carry the Product of the U.S.A. label.
Parade rancher and District 28-A representative, Oren Lesmeister said he is eager for the day when he can walk by a grocery meat case and will know that all meat wrapped in the Product of the U.S.A. label is actually born, raised and harvested in the U.S.
“What a great day for U.S. beef and the families who raise it,” said Lesmeister, who also sits on the South Dakota House Agriculture Committee. “This news will be well received by the agriculture community throughout the U.S. I am happy the secretary has taken initiative to push this forward.”