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Court documents allege mislabeling of U.S. beef

USDA currently allows meat packers to label imported beef as "Product of the USA" if it receives minor processing, such as rewrapping the package.

In court documents filed Friday, ranch groups R-CALF USA and the Cattle Producers of Washington (CPoW) reinforced their allegation that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is mislabeling hundreds of millions of pounds of imported beef as "Products of the USA."

In their lawsuit filed in June against USDA and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, the groups claim that the Tariff Act of 1930 requires imported beef to bear a label denoting the foreign country of origin of the beef all the way to the consumer, unless the beef undergoes a substantial transformation in the U.S.

The secretary disagreed, arguing in his court documents filed earlier that imported beef is to be deemed and treated as domestic beef so long as the importing country's food safety standards are equivalent to U.S. standards. Consequently, the secretary allows multinational meat packers to label imported beef as a "Product of the USA" even if the imported beef receives only minor processing, such as unwrapping and rewrapping the package.

Evidence submitted by the groups indicates that U.S. cattle producers received higher prices for their cattle when the origins of foreign beef was distinguished in the marketplace. Evidence attached to Friday's filing supports the groups' contention that proper enforcement of the Tariff Act would require hundreds of millions of pounds of foreign beef that currently can be labeled as "Products of the USA" to bear country-of-origin labels. This, the groups argue, would turn market forces "in favor of true domestic producers."

Friday's filing also claims that Perdue's failure to enforce the Tariff Act is flooding the U.S. market with mislabeled foreign beef that decreases the market leverage and income of U.S. cattle producers.

R-CALF USA chief executive officer Bill Bullard said the secretary's refusal to enforce the Tariff Act's labeling requirements undermines the President's long-standing "Buy American" campaign and the more recent initiative to increase agricultural output that is "Made in America," as advertised in Perdue's recently unveiled rural task force report.

"It is disingenuous for the Administration to say it is encouraging consumers to buy American while it simultaneously directs its legal team to defend the multinational meat packers' fraudulent practice of putting a USA label on imported beef," Bullard said.

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