Can You Trust a ‘Made in America’ Label?

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The government doesn't certify that "Made in America" claims on labels are true, so how can you tell if a product deserves to be called that?

If a product claims to be made in the good old U.S.A., can you trust that the claim is true? It doesn’t seem that way, according to a post on the Consumerist, which states, “While there are federal standards for what qualifies as ‘Made in America,’ there is no vetting or certification process that goes on before that label can be applied.”

The Consumerist explained the Federal Trade Commission guidelines for when the label can be used:

  • Products that make the claim must be “all or virtually all” made in America.
  • You can make the claim even if some negligible part was manufactured elsewhere — for instance, the nobs on a gas grill.
  • It’s OK to use metals from another country if the components made with that metal are only a small part of the finished product.
  • Clothes that are made in the U.S. from fabric made here — even if the cotton was grown overseas or foreign sheep were sheared to supply the wool — must be labeled as made in the U.S. But don’t expect to see that too often. NBC News reports that “more than 97 percent of apparel and 98 percent of shoes sold in the U.S. are made overseas, according to the American Apparel & Footwear Association.”
  • Cars sold here are required to display where they were assembled and where some of the major parts came from.
  • As an aside, we’ve written about country-of-origin labeling for meat.

It’s also OK to offer consumers more information about the product’s origins, so don’t be surprised to see that. The FTC says:

In general, products processed or finished in the USA that contain materials from other countries should not be labeled “Made in the USA” without further explanation. Look for qualifying statements near the claim that explain which components of the product come from the USA.

The rules are somewhat confusing. Are they being followed? “Any number of things claim to be made in the USA, but that label itself is not an absolute guarantee that what you’re buying was indeed produced stateside,” Consumerist says.

Does anyone really care? They do. Consumer Reports wrote early this year:

Given a choice between a product made in the U.S. and an identical one made abroad, 78 percent of Americans would rather buy the American product, according to a new nationally representative survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center. …

More than 60 percent of all respondents indicated they’d buy American-made clothes and appliances even if those cost 10 percent more than imported versions; more than 25 percent said they’d pay at least an extra 20 percent.

So, how can you be sure a product is made in the U.S. if that’s an important consideration for you? Read the label carefully, CR says. Note: It’s OK to have “U.S.” or “American” in the name of the product or the company and have it made somewhere else.

CR also says these websites are good resources:

Another source is USA Love List.

Is buying American-made goods important to you? Why or why not? Share your thoughts below or on our Facebook page.

Stacy Johnson

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