How to Tell if a Product is Really Made in the U.S.A.

How to Tell if a Product is Really Made in the U.S.A.

June 02, 2016 | Made In The U.S.A.

Since the 1990s, regulations on goods have been made to show county of origin. Yet, when it comes to actually determining where something was manufactured, consumers can only guess. From cardboard boxes exclaiming, “Made in the USA” to instruction manuals touting phrases like, “Assembled in USA of foreign components,” you may find yourself scratching your head in confusion. If you are a conscious buyer looking to support the U.S. economy, there are many ways to tell if a product really is American made.

Due to globalization, finding a product that is 100% made in America is very rare. “Made in USA” labels may imply complete fabrication in America, however, it srill may mean that it was manufactured with many foreign parts or materials. The “Made in USA” label is regulated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and is used when a specific product’s components are at least 75% American made. Unfortunately, the only products required to disclose country of origin are automobiles, textiles, furs and wool.

Decoding "Made in USA" Labels

What the federally regulated “Made in USA” label actually means is that “all or virtually all” of the significant components are of U.S. origin. That brings into question where the raw materials come from. You might encounter something that states “Made in USA of U.S. and imported parts” or “60% U.S. Content.” These are called qualified claims and are authorized by the Commission. A great example of how vague this label is can be seen in the textile industry. A wool sweater might have raw materials from South America that are brought into America, where it is refined. As long as the sweater is made in the U.S., it may have a "Made in USA" label, even thhough the wool the sweater was made form was imported from another country.

“Assembled in USA” is also a bit deceptive and can sometimes be confused with what the FTC defines as “screwdriver assembly.” This means that the majority of the product — furniture or a computer, for example — is produced outside of the USA, imported, then quickly constructed. Some companies slap the “Assembled in USA” sticker on their products although nothing was actually manufactured in America. You might also see a label that says something like, “Assembled in the USA from Brazilian wood.” For a product to truly be afforded the “Assembled in USA” qualification, the assembly must require a “substantial” transformation. Keep in mind that even if a product is labeled “Assembled in USA” it still means that U.S. workers were employed in that assembly althiough its components were not manufactured here.

The Commission says that these claims must be validated and clearly reference the parts that are not of U.S. origin. A manufacturer cannot imply there is more U.S. content than what exists without incurring sanctions.

Buy Smart

There are some things consumers should be aware of when purchasing “Made in USA” or “Assembled in USA” products. First, “Distributed in USA” or similar labels do not give any indications where the product originated from. Second, just because a product displays an American flag or has something patriotic in the brand name does not make it American.

A while back there was misinformation circulating around about how a barcode can help you ascertain where something came from. Barcodes or, more specifically, the European Article Number (EAN-13) uses country codes, but the structure of U.S. barcodes isn’t identical. In fact, the UPC-A codes America uses has nothing about where the product came from. Moreover, the supposed 3-digit country code in the EAN standard relies solely on the location of a company’s headquarters. A branch of that company will carry the main code, regardless of the distance between the two.

A United States Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) called CERTIFIED, Inc. is an certification source for “Made in USA, Product of USA” claims. Products that pass CERTIFIED, Inc.’s criteria get awarded with a "100% U.S. Content" label. If you are looking for genuine American goods, look for the symbol or search the AMA member directory for companies that sell what you are looking for.

In order to support America manufacturing from the inside, purchasing homemade products should be prioritized, yet, in an international economy, buying American goods is continues to be challenging. Standards are vague, and labeling is often misleading, but by understanding the jargon involved and knowing what labels to search for, you can buy 100% American-made!