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Made in the U.S.A.


This interview is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.


Joe Maxwell spent a quarter century in elected office as a state legislator and lieutenant governor of Missouri. These days he spends his time trying to convince politicians to make changes to benefit farmland owners and consumers. He sees numerous significant challenges in agriculture that merit change but is relieved about a new federal policy update.


Labels will match consumer expectations. “So much of our beef and pork is controlled by multinational corporations that have operations around the world,” said Maxwell, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder of Farm Action.


The organization is a think tank, research advocacy organization focused on the food chain and agricultural industry ownership. Farm Action has a sister organization, Farm Action Fund, that lobbies in Washington, D.C., for legislative and policy changes that impact rural communities across the United States. Maxwell serves as President of the fund.


He believes some large companies have falsely claimed meat originated in the United States even though it did not. Maxwell said, “…and because mandatory Country of Origin Labeling had been repealed for beef and pork, those companies were able to bring imported meat into the United States…re-wrap it…don’t do anything else to it. Just put in a different package and be able to stamp it with ‘Product of the U.S.A.’”



Maxwell said that has confused American consumers who want to support meat produced in this country. “It’s wrong to steal that market opportunity away from the farmer and the rancher, and it’s wrong to lie to the consumer about what’s in the package…that meat is…maybe Australian. It could be Brazilian. It could be Argentinean. It comes from anywhere in the world. But it’s not coming from the United States.”


His organization was among those pushing the USDA to strengthen product labeling to more accurately show that meat was produced in the United States. “We began that process on behalf of America’s farmers and ranchers and consumers in the United States,” Maxwell said. “They have transparency and truthfulness in the labeling process.”


This will be more than just a new packaging label that is required to begin on January 1, 2026. “Every package that bears the American flag or the name, ‘Product of the U.S.A.,’ of beef and pork or meat products in that grocery store will have been…born, raised, slaughtered, and processed in the United States. So, America’s workers will have handled that meat, have been the cutters of that meat, and packagers of that meat. And the farmers and ranchers in the United States will be the ones that have raised those animals, so consumers can be assured that they are supporting America’s farmers and ranchers and workers. And they’re getting a higher quality product in the process.”


RELATED: Some Canadian producers disagree with the new “Product of U.S.A.” guidelines and argue that trade could suffer between the two countries. Read a CTV News story from Canada here. 


With product labeling improved, it now means Maxwell can add focus on a new Farm Bill. And that Farm Bill should have greater support for growing vegetables and fruits in the U.S., Maxwell believes.


“The reality is we’re importing more agricultural goods than we’re exporting,” Maxwell said.

USDA figures show that the value of U.S. agricultural imports over the past decade grew by a compounded annual rate of 5.8% versus 2.1% for exports.



     

A USDA report provides context on export vs. import products:


Exports


“Four categories typically accounted for about 90% of total agricultural exports. These categories include grains and feeds; oilseeds and products; animals (e.g. livestock and poultry), meats, and products; and horticultural products.”


Imports


“In most years, at least half the value of U.S. agricultural imports was in horticultural products—a broad category including fruits, vegetables, spirits, wine, essential oils, tree nuts, and nursery stock.”


The USDA cites a stronger U.S. dollar versus other global currencies along with Americans’ growing demand for products year-round (rather than buying only American goods that can be grown in specific seasons) as factors in the overall trade imbalance.



Maxwell thinks that federal government priorities also contribute to the trade deficit. “We’re raising feed. Now, I’m a farmer. But the fact is that most of our acres out across the Midwest…there’s corn and soybeans and wheat. And then down south we’ve got cotton. And then up north we’ve got sugar beets.”


That’s too limited, Maxwell contends. “We’re not raising food. We’re importing the majority of our vegetables and our fruit that we eat. They’re coming from thousands and thousands of miles away and is contributing to a trade deficit.”


Maxwell continued, “We have driven the production of our vegetables and fruits out of the United States, becoming dependent on China and Mexico. So, one of the things that we’re really focused on is to bring back balance in subsidy programs in the government programs that support agriculture, balancing that between the feed crops and the food crops.”


Better balance enhances food security and national security, Maxwell said, and he thinks that it promotes more opportunities for farmers. “It’s also good for beginning farmers and small farmers. The vegetables and fruits are more profitable and have the ability to bring income back to the rural communities. So, it also has a benefit at the bottom line for the smaller farmer.”

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