Good News: Meat Labels Will Now Show You Where Your Meat Came From

Meat Label

Story at-a-glance

  • Meat in your supermarket will now be required to label where the animal that provided your meat was born, raised, and slaughtered
  • This is an improvement from the original Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule, which required only the country of origin to be listed on food labels
  • Tyson, Cargill, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association are among the agribusiness members who spoke out against the new ruling
  • Over 90 percent US respondents to one survey said they favored country-of-origin labeling, highlighting the increasing trend for Americans wishing to know more about where their food comes from
  • Buying your food from a local small farmer, farmer’s market, or food co-op is still the best way to track the origins of your food


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

By Dr. Mercola

You may be in for a surprise the next time you buy meat from your local supermarket. The package will now be required to label where the animal that provided your meat was born, raised, and slaughtered.

This is an improvement from the original Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) rule, which was approved in 2002 and took effect in 2008. That law required only the country of origin to be listed on food labels.

As of late November 2013, however, you will be able to track all stages of your meat’s whereabouts, from birth to slaughter, a major victory for consumers who wish to know where their food comes from. And already, the rule is prompting significant changes for the meat industry…

Industrial Meat Producers Fought Against the New Labeling Rule

Tyson, Cargill, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association were among those who spoke out against the new rule, calling it unnecessarily costly and “short-sighted,” while fearing it will shrink demand for imported meat.

More aptly, you may shun meats that come from far away places, or those that seemed to be world travelers before coming to the US. Arguably, the more “hands” any food touches, and the more elaborate its production processes, the greater the risk of contamination becomes, as contamination can occur at each and every stage of production and transportation.

Industrial meat producers are those much more likely to be bringing in cows or other animals from other countries, which is why they’re so opposed to the labeling rule.

A small grass-fed farmer would have no reason to object to the rule, which is probably why the head of the American Grassfeed Association noted that “the meat business needs more transparency, not less.”1

According to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), the meat industry may have to spend between $53 million and $192 million to come into compliance with the new law, which is actually intended to bring the US into compliance with World Trade Organization guidelines. The Los Angeles Times reported:2

Included in those costs will be the elimination of commingling — the farming of livestock from different countries, which created efficiencies for meatpackers. Livestock will now have to be separated according to origin, which will require new infrastructure for the meat industry.”

Tyson has also already announced that it would be suspending cattle shipped from Canada, rather than adjust its labeling. The new labeling system will be found on muscle cuts of beef, lamb, pork, goat, chicken, wild fish, as well as ground meats and some nuts and other food products.

90 Percent of Consumers Support Country-of-Origin Labeling

A Consumers Union poll found that over 90 percent of those who responded said they favored country-of-origin labeling. And why wouldn’t they? It’s one more way for you to know where your food comes from, providing once commonplace information that has disappeared in the industrial food arena.

Now you will know where your meat comes from, even if you buy it from the supermarket. The next step is labeling foods that come from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), as these account for nearly 95 percent of the meat, dairy and eggs sold in the US – but few are aware of this.

Surely, most Americans would want to know that their meat is being raised in unhealthy, unsanitary, and unconscionably cruel conditions that harm the environment, the animals, and the people who eat them.

Already an initiative is underway toward this end, which would likely lead to even greater changes among the meat industry than those prompted by the updated COOL law. As explained by Ronnie Cummins, the founder and director of the Organic Consumers Association:

“…A new alliance of organic and natural health consumers, animal welfare advocates, anti-GMO and climate-change activists will tackle the next big food labeling battle: meat, eggs and dairy products from animals raised on factory farms, or CAFOs.

This campaign will start with a massive program to educate consumers about the negative impacts of factory farming on the environment, on human health and on animal welfare, and then move forward to organize and mobilize millions of consumers to demand labels on beef, pork, poultry and dairy products derived from these unhealthy and unsustainable so-called ‘farming’ practices.

… With the earth’s population predicted to reach nine billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford this reckless, unhealthy and environmentally disastrous farming system.

We believe that once people know the whole truth about CAFOs they will want to make healthier, more sustainable food choices. And to do that, we’ll have to fight for the consumer’s right to know not only what is in our food, but where our food comes from.”

Retailers Can Also Prompt Major Changes by Increasing Food Labeling Requirements

Despite defeats in both California and Washington against labeling genetically engineered (GE) foods, Whole Foods announced earlier this year that it will make labeling of GE ingredients mandatory in its American and Canadian stores by 2018.  

According to a February 2012 poll of potential voters in the 2012 US elections, 90 percent of responders were in favor of labeling GE foods. There’s really NO reason not to, aside from protecting the biotech industry’s profits. Americans are already responding favorably to those few products that are labeled, again highlighting the growing trend that Americans want to know more about their food.

Many expect other retailers to follow suit, which is precisely why the potential impacts of increased labeling cannot be understated. Over the past year, we’ve not only seen an increase in the number of stories on genetically engineered foods, more people are now also talking about other truth-in-labeling issues, and food safety in general. People are waking up to the fact that we really don’t understand what we’re eating anymore, and they’re taking control of their food again – and this is a very good sign.

Grass-Fed Versus Grain-Fed: Another Important Distinction for Your Beef

Country-of-origin is but one factor you can use to get informed about the meat you’re eating. An even more important variable is whether the beef was fed grass or grain. Grass-fed beef is, quite simply, better for you, better for the planet, and better for the cow.

Currently, meat in supermarkets will be labeled 100% grass-fed if it came from pasture, but if it contains no label it’s probably CAFO-raised. A joint effort between the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Clemson University researchers determined a total of 10 key areas where grass-fed is better than grain-fed beef for human health.3 In a side-by-side comparison, they determined that grass-fed beef was:

Lower in total fat Higher in beta-carotene Higher in vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)
Higher in the B-vitamins thiamin and riboflavin Higher in the minerals calcium, magnesium, and potassium Higher in total omega-3s
A healthier ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids (1.65 vs. 4.84) Higher in CLA (cis-9 trans-11), a potential cancer fighter Higher in vaccenic acid (which can be transformed into CLA)

The Best Way to Know Where Your Food Comes From

You can boycott food products from CAFOs and choose to support farmers who produce healthful grass-fed meat, eggs, and dairy products using humane, environmentally friendly methods. You can do this not only by visiting the farm directly, if you have one nearby, but also by taking part in farmer's markets and community-supported agriculture programs, many of which offer grass-fed beef. The following organizations can also help you locate grass-fed beef and other farm-fresh foods in your local area, raised in a humane, sustainable manner.

Where to Buy Locally Grown Food Preview


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