Do you know where your meat comes from?

Next time you purchase chicken, beef or pork in the US, you may notice a new label on the package, a country of origin label. This new label requirement is part of a $1 trillion farm bill that was approved by the US Senate and is now on its way for the President’s signature. The bill requires meat sold in the US must include details on where the animal was born, slaughtered and processed.

Supporters of this bill believe this gives consumers valuable information on the origin of the food they consume whereas livestock groups and meatpackers cite additional costs to have to segregate and track animals through the supply chain.

Canada and Mexico are also concerned that US meat packers will stop sourcing livestock from outside of the United States.  In fact, the two countries have filed complaints to the World Trade Organization and are contemplating imposing tariffs on US exports which could mean the US may lose $2bn in lost trade with its two neighbors.

According to Canadian publications, the bill would cost Canada’s economy about $1bn a year. Tyson Foods, the largest US meat processor, stopped buying slaughter-ready Canadian cattle in October 2013 due to increased costs associated with this labeling. The company stated, “This law has increased costs by requiring additional product codes, production breaks and product segregation without providing any additional value to our customers.”

A sticky situation for many, particularly as US consumers become more concerned over the food they consume. The food supply chain like other industry-related supply chains has globalized – grapes from Chile, fruits and vegetables from China, seafood from Thailand, coffee from Kenya and so on. While much of it may be safe, news headlines of horsemeat found in beef in Europe and fox DNA found in meat Walmart China sold as donkey has caused consumers to question what exactly is in the food and more importantly how safe is the food?

As such, this attempt to require country of origin labels for meat sold in the US seems to be a good step but perhaps a collaborative approach between the US, Canada and Mexico should have been considered.

Still, this will likely be just the beginning as consumers demand for more and more transparency about how their food supply chain operates. However, will they be willing to pay for this transparency?