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Meat Labeling Law Change Drops Country of Origin

Advocate of local food says the changes unfairly leave consumers in the dark.



Soon it's going to be harder to know the origin of your morning side of bacon. The Associated Press reports that Congress recently passed a law that allows labels listing the country of origin of beef and pork to be dropped from packages of meat.

The change goes against the growing movement of consumers who are more informed and in touch with their food, says Mark Lilly of the local Farm to Family organization. Lilly works to bring produce and meat from Virginia farms to communities through a web of community-supported agriculture programs and a school bus he renovated into a mobile market.

“I think people should be aware of this if they are concerned about their health and the health of their environment,” Lilly says. “There’s full transparency in what I do. I go to the farm, pick all the meat up and bring it to my customers. I can tell them where the farm is. That is the best way to buy your meat.”

But he notes that the change won’t affect small farmers because it’s for the benefit of large-scale exporters.

Advocates of the labels agree that this allows consumers to make more informed buying decisions and encourages the purchase of American meat. Lawmakers in states bordering Canada had pushed for the labeling to protect American ranchers from competition. But it was fear of mad cow disease from imported cattle that made Congress first require the labels in 2002. Most packages weren’t labeled until 2009 because of opposition from the meat industry.

But lawmakers against labeling said that the change was necessary to protect American exporters. After Canada and Mexico challenged the labeling, the World Trade Organization allowed both countries to hit the United States with more than $1 billion in tariffs.

Lilly says that consumers also are blindsided by a push to remove labels that identify food as genetically modified. Vermont is set to require labeling on genetically modified food this summer.

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