Animal-raising claims, such as “grass-fed” and “free-range,” are voluntary marketing claims that highlight certain aspects of how the source animals for meat and poultry products are raised.
These claims must be approved by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service before they can be included on the labels of meat and poultry products sold to consumers. The FSIS most recently updated its guideline on these claims in 2019, but the USDA is launching a multi-step effort to strengthen the substantiation of such animal-raising claims.
The action comes on the heels of President Biden’s Executive Order on Promoting Competition in the American economy.
“Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. “USDA is taking action today to ensure the integrity of animal-raising claims and level the playing field for producers who are truthfully using these claims, which we know consumers value and rely on to guide their meat and poultry purchasing decisions.”
The FSIS says that they’ve received several petitions, comments, and letters from a wide range of stakeholders asking the agency to re-evaluate its oversight of animal-raising claims, specifically, how they are substantiated. In addition, the veracity of “negative” antibiotics claims (for example, “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics ever”) has come into question.
The FSIS, in partnership with the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, will be conducting a sampling project to assess antibiotic residues in cattle destined for the “raised without antibiotics” market. The results of this project will help inform whether FSIS should require that laboratory testing results be submitted for the “raised without antibiotics” claim or start a new verification sampling program.
A revised industry guideline will also be issued by the FSIS to recommend that companies strengthen the documentation that they submit to the agency to substantiate animal-raising claims. The agency says that they plan to strongly encourage the use of third-party certification to verify these claims.
Together these actions will be used to guide potential rulemaking on animal-raising claims.
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Author: Heidi Crnkovic