Country-of-Origin Marking and Labeling Requirements

  • CBP Country-of-Origin Marking. The United States Customs and Border Protection Agency (“CBP”) regulates country-of-origin labeling with respect to all goods imported to the United States, including food. Specifically, Section 304 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C § 1304), as implemented by 19 CFR Part 134 of the Customs Regulations, requires every good of foreign origin (unless excepted), or its container, imported into the United States, to be conspicuously marked in a manner that will indicate the good’s country of origin (“COO”) to the ultimate purchaser.
The COO is the country where the product is manufactured, produced, or grown prior to entering the United States. There are various rules governing COO markings. For example, for goods imported from a country that is a party to a preferential trade agreement (e.g., North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) countries, such as Canada or Mexico), the framework to determine the COO relies on whether a “tariff shift” has occurred. See 19 CFR Part 102. Determining whether a “tariff shift” has occurred is an extremely fact-specific analysis that should be made on a case-by-case basis.
For goods imported from any other country that is not party to any applicable preferential trade agreement, the framework evaluates whether a “substantial transformation” of the product has occurred to determine the origin of the good. See 19 CFR 134.1(b); see also 19 CFR 134.1(d). A “substantial transformation” is based on a change in the name, character, and use of a good that differs from that which it possessed prior to processing and is applied on a case-by-case basis. Additional information on the tariff shift and substantial transformation processes is available here.
  • USDA Country-of-Origin Labeling. Additionally, the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”), through the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. §1621 – 1638d), requires retailers (primarily gro-cery stores and supermarkets) to provide country-of-origin labeling (“COOL”) information for “covered commod-ities,” which include muscle cuts and ground portions of chicken, lamb, and goat meat; fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables; wild-caught and farm-raised fish and shellfish; raw peanuts, pecans, macadamia nuts, and gin-seng. Retailers must convey COOL legibly and in a “conspicuous location” where customers are likely to read and understand the COOL (e.g., “on a placard, sign, label, sticker, band, twist tie, pin tag, or other format that al-lows consumers to identify the country of origin of the product”). 7 U.S.C. § 1638a(c). Additional infor-mation on USDA’s COOL requirements is available here.

Vegan & Vegetarian

  • Vegetarian. U.S. regulations do not currently define “vegetarian.” However, “vegetarian” products are com-monly understood to mean products that do not contain the flesh of any meat (e.g., pigs, cows, bison, exotic meats), poultry (e.g., chicken, turkey), fish, or shellfish. Unlike vegans (as discussed below), many vegetarians consume byproducts of animals, such as milk, eggs, and honey. Additional information on vegetarianism is available here.
  • Vegan. Veganism is a form of vegetarianism. As with “vegetarian,” U.S. regulations do not currently define “vegan” claims. Pursuant to guidance from informal vegan sources and third-party or private authorities, such as the American Vegan Society, however, “vegan” products do not contain any food products or by-products derived from animals or animal by-products, including meat, fish, shellfish, dairy, eggs, honey, etc. Cer-tain other ingredients that are typically considered non-vegan include ingredients such as vitamin D3, casein, certain types of non-vegan sugar, honey, by-products of the fishing industry, etc.




This is general information rather than legal advice and is current as of 30 May 2024. We recommend you contact a specialised food lawyer for legal advice for your particular circumstances to support commercial decisions which could impact your product or business.