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Today, Senator Blumenthal (D-CT), along with Senators Booker (D-NJ), Warren (D-MA), and Whitehouse (D-RI), sent a letter to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) asking them to review the integrity of animal welfare claims like “humanely raised” and “sustainably raised” on meat products. The letter cites a recently published Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) report documenting the USDA’s failure to regulate animal-raising claims on meat found in grocery stores. Over 80 percent of the animal-raising claims on meat and poultry products that AWI requested information about from the USDA had no, or inadequate, information submitted to the USDA for the approval of the claim. Farm Forward and AWI consulted with Senator Blumenthal’s office to make them aware of the findings of the study and to encourage them to take action with the USDA to protect consumers from humanewashing.
The USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) is responsible for regulating all labels on meat and poultry products. FSIS is charged with ensuring label accuracy taking action when systemic mislabeling is uncovered. AWI’s report, along with Farm Forward’s own investigation into “raised without antibiotics” last year, highlight major failures by the USDA to protect the public.
AWI also uncovered documentation that producers submitted—purportedly to substantiate claims of “humanely raised” or “sustainably raised”—indicating that producers may not have gone beyond (dismal) industry standards. Many consumers would find this troubling, given the high expectations they have for meat and poultry products with animal welfare labels.
Farm Forward has long been critical of the USDA’s regulation of terms like “humanely raised” and “free range.” Since many animal-raising claims have no legal definition, producers create their own definitions. The new findings by AWI deepen our concern that the USDA’s failure to define animal-raising claims, and their apparent failures to regulate even the minimal standards that do exist, contribute to consumer confusion, harm higher welfare farmers, and ultimately harm farmed animals.
Accordingly, we’re calling on the USDA to define terms like “humanely raised,” “sustainably raised,” and “raised without antibiotics,” to ensure that, at minimum, those terms require companies to meet standards meaningfully higher than conventional industry practices. Labeling reform must also require that standards be verified through on-farm auditing and residue testing. Standardizing label terms and evaluating common animal-raising claims would make it more difficult for meat companies to use humanewashing tactics to sell their products.
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Even at leading restaurants and natural food retailers, where customers pay a premium price for animal welfare, most animal products come from factory farms. What can we really learn from label claims and certifications?