Soon, Americans Won't Know Where Their Meat Is Coming From

Congress has just decided that you no longer need to know the origin of the beef and pork you eat.

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Jan 5 2016, 6:00pm

Photo via Flickr user JoeBenjamin

Are you the type of person who enjoys knowing where your food comes from? Before you take a bite of food, do you want to know whether it comes from a local farm or halfway around the globe?

If so, prepare to be seriously disappointed in your lawmakers. Congress has just decided that you no longer need to know the origin of the beef and pork you eat.

In a tack-on to a massive end-of-the year federal spending bill, Congress repealed a labeling law that required retailers to state the country of origin of certain types of meat. The now-repealed law was enacted in 2002 in response to fears about mad cow disease in imported cattle. The meat industry fought long and hard against that law and labels didn't appear on most packages until 2009. But now those labels—which stated where the animal providing the meat was born, raised, and slaughtered—are a thing of the past.

The repeal comes not only thanks to big meat's lobbying efforts but also in response to actions by the World Trade Organization. That group—which promotes and regulates international trade—recently authorized Canada and Mexico to retaliate against the US to the tune of $1 billion. The WTO believes that the legal requirement of country-of-origin labels unfairly discriminates against meat imports into the US and favors domestic meat.

READ: Australia Thinks Its Citizens Need to Know How Australian Their Food Is

Consumer groups are obviously not pleased. They point out that at a time when consumers are asking for more information on food packaging, less information is being provided. They also say that Congress went further than it had to; the WTO retaliation campaign applied only to fresh cuts of meat, but Congress repealed the labeling on ground pork and beef as well. Food and Water Watch, a consumer-advocacy group, called the repeal "a holiday gift to the meatpacking industry from Congress."

Perhaps the only good news for consumers to come out of this repeal is that although the food industry made a big push for it, Congress did not add language to the bill that would also have blocked mandatory labeling of genetically modified ingredients. In fact, Congress actually ordered the FDA to come up with a plan to label one type of genetically modified food: salmon.

And, of course, meat producers can choose to label their meats if they want to; it's just the federal legal requirement that has been struck down. So, if you only buy meat that is labeled as to its origin, maybe you'll send a message to Congress that you really do want to know where your food comes from.