In June, the USDA announced modest, but encouraging, reforms to the regulations around meat labeling, offering new guidelines companies must follow if they want to label their products as “humanely raised,” “free range,” or “raised without antibiotics.” These changes are a promising development considering how widespread the phenomenon of humanewashing is across the meat industry. In fact, our recent collaboration with Data for Progress revealed that deceptive labeling of the meat industry is central to how the industry maintains public support; for example, the results showed that the majority of American consumers report that they would be more skeptical of meat companies upon learning that a company engaged in humanewashing.
While the new guidelines from the USDA are a step in the right direction, we think that much more needs to be done for meat labels to meet the public’s expectations. Specifically, we think that the current USDA proposal to “recommend” companies submit more evidence to verify their animal-raising claims and “encourage” third-party certifications to verify such claims, is not sufficient to protect consumers from misleading labels. We think, for example, meat labeled “raised without antibiotics” must be required to submit regular, high-sensitivity testing for antibiotics—something that our recent survey confirms the public already expects.
In response to the USDA’s announcement, Farm Forward sent a letter to Sandra Eskin, the Deputy Undersecretary of Food Safety at the USDA, sharing our concerns and offering actionable recommendations that would help ensure consumer trust in meat labeling. Specifically, we recommended that the USDA:
1. Require meaningful third-party certifications to verify animal raising claims like “humanely raised” and “pasture raised;”
2. Update labeling expectations to require a comprehensive written explanation of a producer’s interpretation of the claim and how their practices significantly surpass the minimum industry standards;
3. Strengthen the definition of “pasture raised” poultry to align it better with consumer expectations (i.e., slow-growing birds living their lives on vegetated pasture);
4. Require companies applying to label their meat as “raised without antibiotics” to verify that the claim is accurate through high-sensitivity testing.
We will continue to work with the USDA to ensure that animal raising claims on meat at least meet consumer expectations. You can read the full letter to the USDA here.