Protecting consumers from deceptive labels on meat products—i.e., humanewashing—should be a high priority for regulatory bodies and those tasked with protecting the public from unscrupulous marketing practices. As such, Farm Forward sent around a dozen state attorneys general a letter imploring them to encourage retailers in their state to improve antibiotic testing and accountability practices among their suppliers.
Over the summer, Farm Forward released the results of our collaboration with polling firm Data for Progress concerning the practice of humanewashing. The survey of 1,100 American adults revealed an escalating demand from the public for transparency and accountability in meat labeling and that meat companies that humanewash risk eroding the trust and support of their customers. Further revealed was the importance to Americans that companies ensure the accuracy and verifiability of their claims about animal welfare and antibiotic usage.
Our report with Data for Progress comes in the wake of a class action lawsuit against Whole Foods Market (WFM) alleging the national grocer falsely advertised its beef as “no antibiotics, ever,” after antibiotic residue was found in WFM’s beef supply chain.
Then, earlier this year, the USDA announced new guidelines for companies seeking to label their products as “humanely raised,” “free range,” and “raised without antibiotics.” These new guidelines include a recommendation that meat companies test animals who are going to be marketed as “raised without antibiotics.” Still, the USDA has not yet required meat companies to test their products (e.g., for antibiotic residue).
The USDA’s announcement is an important step in the right direction, but more needs to be done to encourage grocery retailers and meat companies to ensure their products are accurately marketed. To this end, in our letter to state attorneys general, we informed them of these developments, and—in order to protect consumers better—we asked them to encourage retailers in their state to improve testing for antibiotic residue in their meat products.
Specifically, we hope retailers will:
- Require that their suppliers conduct regular testing on a statistically significant percentage of their meat products labeled “raised without antibiotics” for the presence of antibiotics, using reliable and independent laboratories, testing with a high level of sensitivity (i.e., parts per billion);
- Implement corrective actions for suppliers who fail to meet “raised without antibiotics” standards and policies.
The time to implement these testing practices is perfect—the USDA just released the details of its new pilot testing program for beef marketed as “raised without antibiotics” in an effort to strengthen transparency and verification practices. Read the full text of the letter here.