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Consumer Reports' Investigates the Truth Behind Labels that Imply "Made in the USA"

Whether motivated by patriotism or recent health and safety alerts regarding goods made abroad, consumers may look to find domestic-made goods, but finding a product’s homeland on the label isn’t always easy, says Consumer Reports.

From a can of Pennsylvania Dutchman branded sliced mushrooms that claim to be “America’s Favorite Mushrooms,” but are actually a product of China, to the packaging for a padlock branded “American Lock,” which is assembled in Mexico, Consumer Reports finds that simply implying a product is made in the United States is certainly no guarantee.

“Generally, imports must be labeled with country of origin, but that alone doesn’t always tell the product’s whole story,” said Tod Marks, senior editor at Consumer Reports.

For example, CR found a package of Chicken of the Sea Pink Salmon that claims the contents are “Premium Wild-Caught Alaskan” pink salmon, but the product of origin label indicated it’s a product of Thailand. The Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute explains the salmon is indeed from U.S. waters, but it takes a detour to Thailand for processing and packaging before returning home for sale. Under the FTC rules the packaging must indicate the fish’s detour.

CR found labeling rules can be daunting. The context of the claim and whether it’s likely to mislead a reasonable consumer are key factors, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which is responsible for protecting consumers from false and deceptive claims. Consumer Reports identifies what to look for:

A direct “made in the USA” claim means that “all or virtually all” significant parts and processing are of U.S. origin. But “qualified” claims are also allowed, including “made in the USA of U.S. and imported parts.” Companies must be able to back up either type of claim. In general, imports must be labeled with their country of origin. Among fresh foods, only imported seafood and shellfish must be labeled.

Look for “designed in” or “packaged in” to emphasize a U.S. connection, followed by “assembled in” or “made in,” referring to the actual country of manufacture. The FTC cracks down on standalone terms such as “created in the U.S.” to describe, say, a product invented in Seattle and made in Bangladesh, because consumers are likely to interpret “created” as all-inclusive. It’s legal to use simply “assembled in the U.S.” if the last “substantial transformation” took place in this country—in other words, if the finished product was created here.

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