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Made in the USA? The Truth Behind the Labels

By       Message Craig Harrington     Permalink
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ConsumerReports.org put together a piece for AOL.com describing the marketing gimmicks and loopholes which allow some companies to claim that their product is "Made in USA" when it really originated overseas. 

The most common case occurs when a company assembles certain parts in the U.S. from imported materials.  Such is the case with New Balance Athletic Shoes.  New Balance proudly claims that it has maintained manufacturing in the U.S., despite its competition – Nike, Adidas, Reebok, etc. – all moving production overseas.  What they kindly ignore to tell us is the fact that the components of the shoes are largely imported from overseas before they are put together by American workers.        

Many American computers and vehicles are "designed" in the United States, but their components are actually assembled overseas.  In the case of Ford and General Motors, the auto giants maintain huge production operations in Canada and Mexico before shipping vehicles back into the U.S. for sale. 

Some things which you would think are purely produced in the U.S. give the impression in their name. Pennsylvania Dutchman claims to have "America's Favorite Mushroom," yet the fungi themselves are grown, harvested, and processed in China.          

The company American Lock fabricates its products in Mexico.  According to Laura Fleming of the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Chicken of the Sea sends its wild-caught salmon to Thailand for processing before shipping it back to the U.S. The ConsumerReports piece even showed an American flag which was assembled from overseas materials. 

Perhaps the most alarming, and potentially hazardous, development which has come from "free trade" is the influx of contaminated foods into American grocers and households.  One of the reasons that this threat is so omnipresent is the fact that only some foods are required to display their country of origin.          

According to the 2002 Federal Farm Bill, all produce and meat sold in the United States must display its country of origin.  Unfortunately, after seven years, the bill still only applies to packaged goods.  Meats and produce sold in open bins or displays are not required to provide the same information.

Trying to label something as "Made in the USA" is perhaps the best marketing ploy in the world.  American consumers represent the world's largest market for goods, and their patriotism – especially given the recent "Buy American" upsurge – will drive them toward goods which keep their money close to home.  Unfortunately, many of the best and most popular products are still partly imported.  They therefore contribute to the imbalance of international trade just like any other goods.


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Craig Harrington is pursuing a degree in History and Political Science at The Ohio State University. He is also a journalist for EconomyInCrisis.org.

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