Op-ed by Jim Goodman, Anthony Pahnke, and Mark Perrone (UFCW): Food Safety Ignored in USMCA

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Originally posted December 24, 2019, at www.thehill.com.

America’s food safety takes back seat in new trade deal

American consumers today are empowered with more information than ever before. With smartphones, social media, and countless online reviews at their fingertips, it’s never been easier to learn everything about the products they buy. But when it comes to the food they buy, millions of Americans are still in the dark about a big detail – where their food is from.When shoppers go to the grocery store, they can pick up a package of ground beef that says, “Product of the U.S.A,” but it could be from cattle born, raised and slaughtered outside of the U.S. Families want to buy American-made products they know are safe. They want to support the American jobs that produce that food. And they should be able to do that.

While the new U.S. trade deal with Mexico and Canada (USMCA) makes important improvements to NAFTA, it fails to include the strong country of origin food labeling we need to empower consumers and support American workers. This would significantly improve American food safety and invest in good-paying American jobs. It is deeply concerning that this essential provision was left out of the trade deal.

Americans deserve to know their food is safe, but loopholes currently allow many companies to keep consumers in the dark about where their food is from. Under current rules, companies don’t have to disclose the country of origin for a wide range of food products, including salad mixes with dressing packets, pre-cooked or marinated meat and poultry, and mixed fruits and vegetables.

With the U.S. importing more than $140 billion of food every year, strong country of origin labeling is essential as food safety standards can vary significantly from one country to the next. And with food recalls up 10 percent since 2013, there has never been a more important time to put American consumers first with stronger food safety and transparency.

Strong country of origin labeling on food will also strengthen our economy. Boosting sales for American-made food would give a big lift to our country’s farmers and ranchers who face record low incomes and bankruptcies. It would help rebuild America’s cattle herd and bring back thousands of good-paying beef sector jobs lost to recent droughts. And stronger food transparency would also support good middle class jobs throughout our country’s meat industry.

America has a long history of empowering consumers and supporting our country’s workers with this type of labeling. In 1930, Congress passed a law requiring that almost all imports needed to carry country of origin labels. In 2002, this was expanded to food products like beef, lamb and pork, as well as fish, peanuts and fresh fruits and vegetables.

However, food companies pressured Congress to weaken food transparency and the new food labeling requirement was repealed in 2015. With today’s weaker food safety standards, companies can freely move food products across borders, put pressure on prices and wages, and leave everyday Americans behind.

Americans strongly support fixing this by closing food safety loopholes, with 89 percent in favor of country of origin food labeling. Our country has an opportunity to put the power back in the hands of consumers by giving them the facts about their food.

As farmers, workers and consumers, we are calling on Congress to reinstate commonsense labeling requirements. Together, members of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW), National Family Farm Coalition, and Family Farm Defenders have proudly worked for generations to provide families with the safe and affordable food they deserve.

Free markets are strongest when consumers are empowered with the information they need to make the best choices for their families. Our leaders need to stop catering to companies that are more focused on outsourcing jobs and boosting profits than the consumers they serve.

Congress must stand up for American families and workers and enact strong country of origin food labeling. This will strengthen our economy and ensure that all Americans have the facts about the food they feed their families.

Whether it is through an update to the USMCA trade deal or through new legislation, one thing is clear: Americans cannot wait any longer for this critical investment in food safety and the good-paying jobs our families need.

Marc Perrone is the President of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) International Union. Jim Goodman is the President of the National Family Farm Coalition. Anthony Pahnke is the Vice President of Family Farm Defenders.