Made In The U.S.A.

Faked In The USA

In Resources on February 2, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I had dinner on Friday night with my aunt and uncle. We had a wonderful time, even though I cheated on my diet and now I feel guilty. We had Thai food, but it was made in Missouri so I think that counts. As was the chocolate soufflé dessert from California Pizza Kitchen. That’s gotta be American; it’s even got a state in its name. (Even if it is California, the least American of all the states.)

I mentioned to my Aunt Susan that I am trying to buy only American-made products this year. She lit up: “Me too!” She’s really limiting herself to non-China-made items, but really that’s the same thing. She recounted a story of having a lovely Cashmere sweater in hand and it was prominently labeled “Italian Wool.” She assumed that meant its origin was Italy. She later discovered differently and then put it back on the rack. A second tag stated the sweater was in fact made in China.

We chatted about the subject a bit and one of the most interesting things she said was that the term “Product of USA” is often found and, unlike me, she interprets it to mean the object in question is not actually made here. I read it as “Made In The USA,” but she sees it signifying “Made anywhere by a company that’s owned in the United States.” I wonder if there’s any truth to that?

A visit to the FTC web site (the people responsible for setting the official MITUSA labeling standard) and I’m broken-hearted. Not so much about the Product of USA thing, but because right off the bat I’m greeted with stories of companies who make false claims about their products’ MITUSA status.

– FTC Alleges Stanley Made False Made In The USA Claims About Its Tools.
– Black & Decker and its Subsidiary, Kwikset Corp., Agree to Settle FTC Charges of Making Misleading “Made In USA” Claims.
– Major US Manufacturers Agree to Settle Charges of Making Misleading “Made In USA” Claims.

Even when you do your diligence and buy the correctly labeled stuff, there’s a good chance you’re being lied to! Who’d have thunk it: major American corporations lying to the consumer to make a buck. Have they no shame? What’s next, you’re gonna tell me that big pharmaceutical companies aren’t interested in curing my illnesses?

It turns out, though, that the phrase Product of USA should apparently be construed as Made In The USA. That, or the company is in violation of the FTC standard.

Here’s how the FTC evaluates “Made In USA” claims in product advertising, labeling and packaging:

For most products: Unless the product is an automobile or a textile or wool product, there’s no law that requires manufacturers and marketers to make a “Made in USA” claim. If a business chooses to make the claim, however, the FTC’s “Made in USA” “all or virtually all” standard applies.

For textile and wool products: Under the Textile and Wool Acts, these products must be labeled to identify the country where they were processed or manufactured.

* Imported products must identify the country where they were processed or manufactured.

* Products made entirely in the U.S. of materials also made in the U.S. must be labeled “Made in USA” or with an equivalent phrase.

* Products made in the U.S. of imported materials must be labeled to show the processing or manufacturing that takes place in the U.S., as well as the imported component.

* Products manufactured in part in the U.S. and in part abroad must identify both aspects.

In addition, print and online catalogs must disclose whether a textile was made in USA, imported or both.

I interpret that to mean, among other things:

A). A product not at all labeled with a country of origin is by default Made In The USA. (The requirement in the first part reads that “imported products must identify the country where they were processed or manufactured.”) That’s great news, especially for groceries, since so many of them are not labeled at all. By default, the assumption is that they are MITUSA.

B). Products labeled with language like “Product of USA” are in fact made here because, as the guideline requires in the second part, they are labeled with “an equivalent phrase.” To my eye, “product of” and “made in” are pretty darn equivalent.

C). I’m most intrigued by the application of the law. You’re in no way required to label your MITUSA product as MITUSA. But if you do choose to label, you have to adhere to the standards of the Federal Trade Commission. I like that. You can just avoid the headache by not labeling—which is probably why some companies (like Goodyear and Cooper and New Balance) either label ONLY their MITUSA products as such, or skip the whole thing altogether. If it’s not labeled, there’s some reason the company doesn’t want to bicker over details (such as the origins of raw materials, or some out of country facilities involved, or any number of other caveats). If it doesn’t say MITUSA, it ain’t MITUSA, unless the assumption is it’s MITUSA.


Still, I’m a little confused about one part: If it doesn’t have to be labeled as MITUSA even if it is, but imported items need to be labeled as imports, then what about items that aren’t labeled but sure as hell are neither purely MITUSA nor purely imported? I guess the importers of foreign materials to make their products aren’t required to list all imported parts, but since parts of the products are imported they aren’t comfortable with (or legally obliged to) labeling the products as MITUSA.

I’m getting a headache from all these technicalities.

The take-away, though, sure seems to be a simple one: My food, unless labeled otherwise, is coming from the U.S. And the same with most other stuff. And thanks to the Textiles and Wool Act, all clothing is labeled one way or the other. (Just as a heads up, the vast majority of it is labeled from some far away land. Didn’t want you to be surprised by that one.)



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