The Comprehensive Guide to Importing Meat Into the US

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If you want to bring meat into the U.S., you’ll be contending with strict FDA and USDA regulations. We have the information you need to satisfy their requirements and ensure your success.
August 12, 2020
Last Modified: July 1, 2024
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Meat is one of the most imported agricultural products in the United States. However, getting these goods into the country is no easy task to undertake. If you want to import meat, you’ll need to satisfy a variety of requirements.   

Key Takeaways:

  • The FDA, USDA, and CBP are the three primary federal agencies that regulate the importation of meat into the U.S.
  • There are only 33 countries that have been approved by the USDA to source meat imports.
  • Beef is the most commonly imported meat product in the U.S., and it primarily comes from Mexico, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and New Zealand.
  • Game Meat products must abide by FDA rules, while bushmeat is illegal to bring into the country. 

The regulations for animal products are complex, but in this guide, I’ll go over all the rules you’ll need to follow. 

What Federal Agencies Regulate Meat?

The primary federal agencies that regulate animal products meant for human consumption are the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). There are two sub-agencies under USDA that enforce these regulations. 

This includes:

  • Animal and Plant Health Inspection Agency (APHIS)
  • Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS)

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) also plays a limited role in regulating the entry of these goods into the country.

FDA’s Requirements

The FDA wants your animal goods to meet the same safety standards that are applied to foods produced domestically. To ensure this happens, you’ll need to follow a few of their requirements. 

This includes:

  • Registering your facility
  • Abiding by the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Labeling and packaging your goods accurately
  • Submitting Prior Notice

I’ll walk you through each of these regulations and show you what you’ll need to do. 

Registering Your Facility

Most facilities that manufacture, process, pack, receive, or hold meat must register with the FDA. Therefore, you’ll need to determine if your suppliers are already registered with the FDA and ensure they have an active food facility registration number. If they do, you won’t need to worry about completing this step. 

However, you will need to register your supplier through the FDA Industry Systems portal if they’re not already established. During this process, you’ll have to complete 12 different steps where you will provide vital information about their facility.

This includes:

  1. Type of registration — Indicate if the facility is within the United States. You’ll also have to discern if you’re registering it as a new owner of a previously registered facility. 
  2. Facility name and their address — In step two, you simply need to list the name and address of the facility. 
  3. Preferred mailing address of the facility — Step three is optional, but you can provide any mailing address that works best for your needs. 
  4. Address of the parent company — Section four is only applicable if the parent company’s name, address, and preferred mailing address differs from sections two and three. 
  5. Emergency contact information — The FDA will use this information to contact the facility.
  6. Alternate trade name — Any alternate names in addition to the one listed in section two should appear here. 
  7. United States agent — All foreign facilities require a U.S. agent to be their domestic communication representatives.
  8. Seasonal facility operation dates — This section is optional. You’ll need to provide the approximate dates your supplier’s foreign facility operates if they’re only open for certain parts of the year. 
  9. General product categories  This section will require you to verify if your products are for consumption by humans, animals, or both.
  10. Owner, operator, or agent in charge information — You will need to verify if this information is the same as it appears in previous sections or provide new details.
  11. Inspection statement — You will need to check a box that acknowledges the FDA is permitted to inspect the facility.
  12. Certification statement — Provide information about yourself, who authorized the submission of the registration, and certify everything is true and accurate.

You’ll need to re-register all your supplier’s facilities with the FDA every two years. 

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FSMA Requirements

FSMA has numerous rules in place to guarantee the safety of foods produced domestically and abroad. Under this law, you’ll be required to follow the Foreign Supplier Verification Program (FSVP). 

You’ll have the responsibility of determining if your supplier has the right precautions in place to ensure the meat they produce is safe for consumption. To abide by the FSVP, you’ll need to follow five steps.   

This includes:

  1. Hazard analysis
  2. Evaluation of food risk and supplier performance
  3. Supplier verification
  4. Corrective actions
  5. Unique facility identifier

For the hazard analysis, you’ll be required to identify and evaluate the various hazards that your products could face. 

This may include:

  • Biological hazards
  • Chemical hazards
  • Physical hazards

These dangers could occur naturally, unintentionally, or intentionally be introduced for economic gain. When conducting your analysis, you’ll need to carefully assess the probability that hazards could occur. 

You’ll need to consider the following factors:

  • Formulation of the food
  • Conduction, function, and design of the establishment and equipment the entity that produced the meet
  • Materials and raw ingredients
  • Transportation practices
  • Harvesting, raising, manufacturing, processing, and packing procedures
  • The packaging and labeling activities
  • Storage and distribution of products
  • Sanitation, including the hygiene of employees handling the items

Next, you’ll need to evaluate the risks that can arise when you buy your goods and review your supplier’s performance. 

Factors that you’ll need to evaluate, include:

  • The foreign supplier or the supplier of raw ingredients efforts to prevent or minimize the hazards facing your goods
  • The practices used by your supplier to protect the safety of your food
  • A foreign supplier’s compliance with FDA’s food safety standards
  • Your supplier’s food safety history, which includes their responsiveness to correcting problems in the past
  • Other factors like storage and transportation practices

The third step you’ll have to complete is verifying your supplier. This will ensure your items are coming from an approved provider of these products. Fortunately, there are multiple ways that you can verify the supplier of your goods. 

  • Annual on-site audits
  • Sampling and testing
  • Reviewing the supplier’s relevant food safety records

It’s essential you know what corrective actions to take if the supplier doesn’t follow the right processes to ensure the safety of your products. What action you will take can vary based on the circumstances, but it could include ceasing to use the supplier until they adequately address noncompliance. 

The final rule you’ll need to follow is providing some key pieces of information about yourself for each line entry that enters the country. 

This includes:

  • Name
  • Electronic mail address
  • Unique facility identifier (UFI)

If you don’t have a UFI, you can use a Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) as an acceptable replacement. 

Labeling

Meat products have to abide by the FDA’s labeling requirements to verify the safety and nutritional value of the goods. The label for these items must contain informative and truthful details about your products. 

The language used on the label should be in English or the predominant language of the U.S. territory where your goods will arrive. There are five essential pieces of information that should be included on the label. 

  • Statement of identity
  • Net quantity of contents
  • Ingredient list
  • Nutrition facts
  • Allergen information

The statement of identity will verify the type of meat and its common name. Net quantity of contents is used to list how much of the product is contained in the packaging by weight or volume. Ingredients should be listed in descending order based on their weight. 

Nutrition facts will contain the following:

  • Serving size
  • Calories
  • Fats
  • Carbohydrates
  • Protein
  • Vitamins
  • Minerals 

If your goods contain any major food allergens, you will need to provide a label that indicates which are present in your product. 

Prior Notice

Before your products can be brought into the U.S., you’ll have to send a prior notice (PN) to the FDA. This lets FDA know to target inspections or examinations of food products coming into the country.  

You can submit the document using CBP’s Automated Commercial Environment (ACE) or FDA’s Prior Notice System Interface (PNSI). Creation of a PN is done by completing a series of steps. When completing this documentation through the PNSI, you’ll be providing a variety of different information. 

This includes:

  • Product information and identifiers
  • Quantity and packaging
  • Manufacturer
  • Grower/consolidator
  • Country of the owner’s business
  • Shipper
  • Ultimate consignee
  • Holding facility

After you’ve filled out all essential information, you’ll need to save your work. 

Related: The Complete Guide To FDA Customs Clearance

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USDA Requirements

The USDA is responsible for regulating meat, poultry, processed egg products, and catfish. As a result, they want to ensure that your goods are safe for consumption.  

FSIS is an agency within the USDA that enforces a variety of procedures that you’ll have to follow. 

  • Country eligibility 
  • Import certification
  • Re-inspection at port-of-entry
  • Residue & microbial testing
  • Inspection of product labels

I’ll show you how these procedures work in the subsequent sections. 

Import Certification

All foods derived from animals entering the country should have an FSIS foreign inspection certificate accompanying it. This document will need different pieces of information regarding your product.

This includes:

  • Product name
  • Establishment number
  • Country of origin
  • Name and address of the manufacturer or distributor
  • Quantity and weight of contents 
  • List of ingredients
  • Species of animals your goods are derived from
  • Identification marks

The foreign inspection certificate will need an official seal from the foreign government that performed the inspection. A signature from an agency official should also appear on the document. Certificates should be written in English and the language of the foreign country where you purchased your products. 

Reinspection at Port-of-Entry

FSIS officials will reinspect your products before they can be allowed into the country. The appearance and condition of the items in your shipment will be inspected during a visual inspection. Officials will also ensure that your goods have an FSIS certification and label.  

Once your items pass FSIS reinspection, they’ll be allowed into the U.S. and treated the same as domestic products. Approved goods will also be given a USDA mark of inspection, unless your products are from Canada. 

All meat originating from Canada will have the Canadian mark of inspection and export stamp. If your items are rejected during FSIS reinspection, the container carrying them will be stamped with the statement: “U.S. Refused Entry”. 

If this happens, you’ll need to take the following actions within 45 days:

  • Export your goods
  • Destroy your goods
  • Convert your items to animal food 

Keep in mind that you’ll only be allowed to convert your rejected goods into animal food if your request for diversion has been granted by the FDA. 

Residue & Microbial Testing

FSIS will randomly sample products to determine if they have violative chemical residues outlined by the National Residue Program. They also perform a variety of microbial tests for different types of meat.

  • Ready-to-eat meat — These products are tested for Listeria Monocytogenes and Salmonella
  • Dried and semi-fermented sausages — Testing includes Listeria Monocytogenes, Staphylococcus aureus enterotoxin and Salmonella
  • Raw ground beef and ground beef components — Testing for E. coli is performed

Both residue and microbial testing is done in accordance with domestic testing procedures. 

Meat Labeling Requirements

There are strict labeling requirements for importing meat into the U.S. that are enforced by the FSIS. These rules govern the content and appearance of your goods and poultry products, as well as usage instructions and best practices. 

FSIS must approve everything from the date and handling instructions, to the size of the font on the label. This ensures consumers can make informed choices on safe products. All meat and poultry products sold in the U.S. must comply with the labeling requirements. 

Every label must include: 

  • Product name
  • Foreign Establishment Number and Country-of Origin shown directly under the product name
  • Name and address of the manufacturer or distributor
  • Net quantity of contents in pounds and ounces or liquid measure
  • List of ingredients

You’ll only need to include safe handling instructions if they’re applicable to your items. 

Related: Importing Organic Food into the U.S.

APHIS Requirements

APHIS Veterinary Services (VS) is part of the USDA and they enforce numerous requirements for meat products. They’ll want you to obtain a VS import permit for your products. You can submit and track these documents using APHIS eFile.  

If you’re bringing meat into the country for the first time, the VS Permitting Assistant will help you when applying for your permit by taking you through a series of steps. 

  1. Selecting a category tab to enter a commodity’s details
  2. Select attributes
  3. Select material

Completing these steps will help you if you need a permit and what actions you’ll have to take to get one. APHIS will require you to submit a Lacey Act Declaration for your items to ACE. 

This can be done by using the APHIS Core Message Set system. APHIS has plenty of instructional videos that will take you through the steps on how to submit your declaration through this program. You can also contact one of our Licensed Customs Brokers for further assistance

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What Are CBP’s Regulations for My Products

CBP’s requirements for the entry of these goods into the U.S. essentially reinforce the ones set by the USDA and FDA. They explicitly stress the importance of submitting a PN to FDA and obtaining approval from USDA to bring your goods into the country. 

Can I Buy Meat From Any Country?

You can’t purchase meat from any country, but you can buy these products from 33 nations that have USDA approval. They also provide information on certified establishments in each nation that are eligible to export these goods to the United States. The U.S. purchases a variety of these items from the approved countries. 

However, beef is the most popular meat product that comes into the country from abroad. Of the 33 approved nations, I’ve provided data on the top five countries that supply this product to the United States. 

The graphic shows a horizontal bar graph of the top beef suppliers to the US. The top bar is dark blue and shows that Canada provides 29% of the U.S.'s imported beef. The second bar is red and shows Mexico provides 22% of the U.S.'s imported beef. The third bar is blue-gray and shows Brazil provides 14% of the U.S.'s imported beef. The fourth bar is light purple and shows Australia provides 12% of the U.S.'s imported beef. The fifth bar is cobalt blue and shows New Zealand provides 12% of the U.S.'s imported beef. The sixth bar is sea green and shows the remaining 11% percent of U.S. beef imports consists of other countries in a category called "other".

In the following sections, I’ll discuss why these countries make the U.S.’s top five suppliers for these products. 

Importing From Mexico And Canada

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a big reason why U.S. buyers purchase animal products from these two countries. The free trade agreement (FTA) provides numerous benefits.

This includes:

  • Lower or eliminated tariffs
  • Duty-free treatment
  • Lower distribution costs
  • Higher-quality product 

Buyers in the U.S. purchase a variety of meat products from Canada and Mexico, but beef is the most popular. All agricultural products, including animal foods for human consumption, are given duty-free treatment under USMCA. This means you’ll be able to save money when you buy these goods from Mexico or Canada. 

Related: Import Costs from Mexico

Brazil

The U.S. and Brazil don’t share an FTA. However, both countries signed the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation to enhance their relations. Similar to Mexico and Canada, the U.S. buys a large amount of beef from Brazil. 

In the first three months of 2022, the U.S. purchased 50,000 metric tons of beef from Brazil. Part of the reason Brazil is a popular place to source these products from is due to the country’s devalued currency. 

Australia and New Zealand

Australia and the U.S. both share an FTA that provides duty-free treatment on three quarters of agricultural tariff lines. Fortunately, preferential treatment extends to a variety of meat the U.S. purchases from this vital trade partner. 

This includes:

  • Beef
  • Lamb
  • Mutton
  • Pork 
  • Poultry

The U.S. mostly purchases beef products from Australia, but it also buys large quantities of lamb. In 2022, Australia shipped 92,566 tons of lamb products to the United States. New Zealand is another popular supplier of meat. 

Although an FTA doesn’t exist between the U.S. and New Zealand, both countries share excellent trade relations with one another. The country is also well known for providing quality animal products. 

What Are the Rules for Importing Game Meat and Bushmeat Into the U.S.

Game meat refers to flesh from animals found in the wild, rather than those raised on farms. The FDA classifies these items as non-amenable. They require imports of this to abide by the same regulations as other meat items, which we’ve already discussed. 

Another non-amenable product is bushmeat. This typically comes from animals located in jungle, savannah, and wetland environments. Bushmeat is illegal to bring into the U.S., per the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Any shipments of this animal product that arrive at a U.S. port of entry will be destroyed.  

Import Meat Into the U.S. With USA Customs Clearance

Navigating through all the regulations set by federal agencies that have jurisdiction over meat products can be hard to do on your own. USA Customs Clearance can guide you through the requirements you need to complete. Our team consists of Licensed Customs Brokers and import specialists that have years of knowledge that you can trust. 

You can also use one of our valuable services:

  • Importing/Customs Consulting: Discuss the requirements for importing meat products with one of our Licensed Customs Brokers. 
  • Customs Bond: You’ll need this document if your shipment has a value greater than $2,500. We can provide you with this essential piece of paperwork and help you fill it out. 
  • Bundles for New Importers: If you’re new to importing, you can purchase one of four bundles that will take you through the basics. 

With USA Customs Clearance, your success is a guarantee. Get started with one of our great services or contact us through the site if you have any questions or concerns. You can also reach our team at (855) 912-0406.

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Latest comments (18)

Is there a way to import foreign military rations from Europe and Eastern Europe for personal use only, without being subject to customs taking items from the package? These rations are not for resale or distribution. They are a hobby.

To Whom it may Concern,

I produce beef jerky in Argentina but have had issues shipping to the US.

I’m now expanding into Malaysia and was wondering if exporting my jerky to the US is and easier?

I have the list for appoved importers of beef from Argentina. Is it similar for Malaysia?

I thank you for any clarification regarding this matter you can provide.

Tim Stroud

Not sure where this is the place to ask but anyway; we would like to import process sauce product into US. But, there’s a beef ingredient which takes about 10% of total ingredient. Do we any special permits to import these sauce to US ? If no special permits is needed to what percentage can I import without the permits ?

Claudio Marcio

Hi Paul,

I am looking to start an import company from the ground up to bring in red meat and poultry from Brazil into the US. Both frozen and dry form preferably. Would like to have an initial conversation on the initial steps needed to get things off the ground here before heading to Brazil in the fall. Thank You

Umer Farooq

Hello,Can a pakistan company export frozen chicken meat and frozen beaf and frozen goat meat to america even by acquiring FDA registration and following FSIS regulations.thanks.

This is Alan Li with RTW Logistics, freight forwarder for export/import.
My customer just loaded one reefer of frozen beef from Hamada, Japan and shipment’s ETA port Everglades, FL late August.

Since this is their first frozen beef, they an Import Customs Broker in Florida.

Can we discuss first and I will provide the importer’s contact info?

Thanks

Randy Hauck

Hi Paul,

A company out of Thailand can export beef jerky to the U.S. There will be many steps to go through to complete your first import including FDA registration as you mentioned. One of our import experts will reach out to you shortly to assist you further. We look forward to working with you!

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Ocala, FL 34470
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