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FTC Finalizes Made in USA Labeling Rule

Goods advertised as “Made in the USA” (MUSA) are potential money-makers for manufacturers tapping into the market of consumers who seek home-grown products. In recent years, however, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has investigated companies that deceptively marketed their goods as American-made, sending out warning letters, closing out investigations of companies that quickly change their advertising, and initiating more forceful enforcement action against advertisers who cannot substantiate MUSA claims. The FTC now has an additional legal basis for these investigations: a new rule that requires business making unqualified MUSA claims on their labels to prove their products are “all or virtually all” sourced and manufactured in America – or potentially pay hefty fines.

The Made in USA Labeling Rule (The Rule) codifies the Commission’s Decisions and Orders and its Enforcement Policy Statement on U.S. Origin Claims. It applies to all labels, whether they appear on product packaging or online, and includes mail order catalogs or mail order promotional materials that include a seal, mark, tag, or stamp declaring goods are “Made in the United States.”

Under the Rule, companies are barred from making unqualified MUSA claims unless they can establish that:

  • Final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the United States;

  • Significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States; and

  • All or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States.

The Rule provides an exemption for companies that can show their unqualified MUA claims are not deceptive. This isn’t a new concept. However, it also empowers the FTC to pursue civil penalties of up to $43,280 per violation against companies that make false MUSA claims.

The vote to approve the Final Rule was 3-2. Voting in favor, Commissioners Rohit Chopra, Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, and Chair Lina Khan issued a statement praising the action, which is consistent with a 1994 statute codified in 15 U.S.C. § 45(a). The Rule reflects longstanding guidance and legal precedent without imposing new obligations on businesses. The three Commissioners applauded the “broader range of remedies including the ability to seek redress, damages, penalties, and other relief from those who lie about a Made in USA label” authorized by the Rule. Commissioner Christine S. Wilson dissented, saying that the Rule is overbroad and “could be read to cover all advertising, not just labeling.” She argued that the rule thereby exceeds the FTC’s statutory authority. She added: “The Supreme Court’s recent decision in AMG  has eliminated the FTC’s ability to seek equitable monetary relief under Section 13(b) of the FTC Act to compensate consumers. Thus, the temptation to test the limits of our remaining sources of authority is strong.”

In addition to its authority under the Rule, the FTC will continue to pursue deceptive MUSA advertising claims via its authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act.

One thing has been clear across several different administrations: false MUSA claims are a concern to regulators and will continue to garner enforcement attention. Companies that wish to label and/or advertise products as U.S.-made should make sure they understand the Rule as well as advertising basics, and confirm that they can substantiate express or implied MUSA claims on packaging, labeling, and advertising. False claims on labels could trigger civil penalties.

© 2021 Keller and Heckman LLPNational Law Review, Volume XI, Number 194
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About this Author

Sheila Millar, Keller Heckman, advertising lawyer, privacy attorney
Partner

Sheila A. Millar counsels corporate and association clients on advertising, privacy, product safety, and other public policy and regulatory compliance issues.

Ms. Millar advises clients on an array of advertising and marketing issues.  She represents clients in legislative, rulemaking and self-regulatory actions, advises on claims, and assists in developing and evaluating substantiation for claims. She also has extensive experience in privacy, data security and cybersecurity matters.  She helps clients develop website and app privacy policies,...

202-434-4646
Jean-Cyril Walker, Keller Heckman, Environmental Compliance Lawyer, Renewable Fuel Standards Attorney
Partner

Jean-Cyril Walker joined Keller and Heckman in 2000. He advises clients on a wide range of environmental matters, including compliance with U.S. requirements governing the safe management and disposal of chemical and hazardous substances. Mr. Walker counsels fuel industry clients on federal and state requirements governing the development and distribution of fuels and fuel additives, including the renewable fuel standards (RFS and RFS2), and matters involving renewable fuel identification number (RIN) transactions. Mr. Walker regularly advises industry and trade...

202-434-4181
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