Made in the USA? Make Sure That’s Legally True.

With the international supply chain in tangles, some companies are promoting “Made in America” flooring. However, many of these advertisements – while certainly well intended – are legally incorrect. The “MUSA” (Made in the USA) laws have recently been reinforced by Congress to aid consumers in making informed choices. Most of the following guidance has been pulled directly from the government guidance available here.

First, a MUSA is not just a statement. It can be implied with the use of a FLAG or even just a statement that “our facility is located in the great state of…”

  • Example of expressed statements: “Made in USA.” “Our products are American-made.” “USA.” As a note, the Feds don’t like a lot of the common synonyms either, rejecting “manufactured,” “built,” “produced,” “created,” or “crafted.”
  • Example of implied representation: “Depending on the context, U.S. symbols or geographic references (for example, U.S. flags, outlines of U.S. maps, or references to U.S. locations of headquarters or factories) may convey a claim of U.S. origin either by themselves, or in conjunction with other phrases or images.”

Second, MUSA must be specific to a product. You can’t have one MUSA item and then imply that makes everything MUSA. The government notes that “Manufacturers and marketers should not indicate, either expressly or implicitly, that a whole product line is of U.S. origin (“Our products are made in USA”) when only some products in the product line are made in the U.S.”

So just what is the standard for MUSA? The government specifies that “for a product to be called Made in USA, or claimed to be of domestic origin without qualifications or limits on the claim, the product must be “all or virtually all” made in the U.S.”

There is certainly some wood flooring in the U.S. that will meet that criteria, but you will also see many companies advertising simultaneously “Made in the U.S. with the finest Baltic Birch plywood.” That doesn’t work. At best, it could be described as “Assembled in the USA.” The government says that “a product that includes foreign components may be called “Assembled in USA” without qualification when its principal assembly takes place in the U.S. and the assembly is substantial.” However, “For the “assembly” claim to be valid, the product’s last “substantial transformation” also should have occurred in the U.S.”

That definition of substantial transformation doesn’t include simply adding a veneer to the flooring. U.S. Customs doesn’t consider that a substantial transformation – they look at it as making fatter plywood. If you’re a domestic producer, you should consult with an attorney to determine the correct marking for your product. Here is the standard you need to meet to be MUSA:

  1. final assembly or processing of the product occurs in the United States;
  2. all significant processing that goes into the product occurs in the United States; and
  3. all or virtually all ingredients or components of the product are made and sourced in the United States.

So domestic manufacturers, check the origin of your inputs. If they include foreign content, your product is most likely not MUSA. You don’t want to get in legal trouble with a “Buy American project” or see your name splashed in headlines for FTC violations.

And importers – watch out for putting the flag or terms like “Designed in the USA” or “Made with German Technology” in big letters on your box in a way that could be misleading. Just because you picked the color or they used a Weinig moulder doesn’t make this an American or German floor; and you shouldn’t imply that it is.

By the way, Canada doesn’t have an origin label requirement. A company may choose to put a truthful “made in” statement on a box or leave it completely undefined. Because they do not police origin representations well, you will find a lot of maple leaves decorating boxes coming in from other countries. It’s gotten to the point that if I see a big red maple leaf on a box I assume it is NOT Canadian. Sigh.

Let’s campaign for truth in representation in the flooring industry!

Elizabeth Baldwin is Environmental Compliance Officer for Metropolitan Hardwood Floors. In her 25 plus year career in the wood industry has visited over 70 countries and hundreds of facilities of all sizes and types. She describes herself as a “jack of all wood trades.” Familiar with jungles of all sorts–having camped out along the Amazon and walked the halls of Congress–she blogs for the NWFA on both environmental and regulatory issues for educational and informational purposes only. Her blog is not intended and should not be construed as legal advice. Persons seeking legal advice on compliance with CARB, TSCA, the U.S. Lacey Act or any other law, regulation, or compliance requirement/claim should consult with the regulatory agency directly and/or a qualified legal professional.

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