DES MOINES, Iowa - Requiring meat labels to have more details about a product's origins is too costly and serves no public health or safety benefit, industry groups said Tuesday in announcing a lawsuit. They are suing the U.S. Department of Agriculture over new labeling rules.
The rules went into effect in May and require labels for steaks, ribs and other cuts of meat to detail where animals grown for meat were born, raised and slaughtered.
Previously, labels only required that countries of origin be noted, so a package might say, "Product of U.S. and Canada." Now, the labels must specify "Born in Canada, raised and slaughtered in the United States."
In addition, the USDA is prohibiting processors from mixing meat from animals born, raised, or slaughtered in Mexico, Canada, or other countries with meat from the U.S.
The American Meat Institute, a trade group for packers, processors, and suppliers and seven other groups, said the new rule "may be a bureaucrat's paperwork fantasy, but the labels that result will serve only to confuse consumers, raise the prices they pay, and put some producers and meat and poultry companies out of business in the process."
The USDA says the country of original labeling will help consumers make informed decisions about the food they buy.
Other advocates of the new rule, including the Consumers Union, a New York-based consumer advocacy group, say segregating meat will help if a food safety issue develops. The rules also have had support from other farmers organizations, along with environmental groups.
The meat industry groups that sued said that about 4 to 7 percent of beef and pork consumed in the U.S. comes from animals from other countries.
Once in the supply chain, the meat becomes interchangeable with meat from U.S. animals, they said.
"In short, beef is beef, whether the cattle were born in Montana, Manitoba, or Mazatlán," the federal lawsuit said. "The same goes for hogs, chickens, and other livestock."
Meat suppliers will be forced to segregate the animals along the entire supply chain, they said.
The USDA estimates the labeling change will cost somewhere between $53.1 million and $192.1 million to put in place. The National Grocers Association said it expected it to cost at least $100 million as companies buy new signs, labels and labeling machines.
In some parts of the U.S., including Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California, as much as half of the livestock used for meat could be imported, The Associated Press reports.