USDA: No Evidence Consumers Want to Know Origins of Meat

July 7, 2008 - 8:02 PM

( - The Agriculture Department says there's no evidence consumers are willing to pay more for meat if it is labeled with the country of origin.

"To the contrary, if consumers do distinguish goods depending on their country of origin, strong incentive exists for industries to act without government intervention," according to a study that the USDA issued on Wednesday.

Some American producers have been pushing Congress to require such labeling as a way to curb imports of Canadian cattle. In addition to lobbying for legislation, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association has been working with the grocery industry to come up with a voluntary system for labeling meat.

"Beef from foreign companies is coming into the United States and essentially being laundered and sold as US beef, and that's just not right," said Julie Quick, a spokeswoman for the producers group.

News reports say that the USDA study, which was requested by Congress after meat processors defeated a labeling bill in 1998, said such a law could hurt US meat exports if foreign countries impose a similar requirement.

USDA did not put a price tag on a labeling system. The labels themselves could cost anywhere from $500,000 to $8 million, depending on labeling's application to particular cuts of meat.

Processors also would have to segregate meat that enters the country to make sure it's labeled properly, and the cost of doing that "is unknown, but could be significant," the report said. There would be additional costs to USDA to enforce the law.

Meatpackers claim that labeling meat could cost the industry $1 billion a year. About 10 percent of the beef that Americans eat is imported.