Hardly Humane: Stricter Standards Needed for Food Product Labels

In an attempt to clarify its procedures, the US Department of Agriculture published a new guidance document that explains the department’s approval process for animal raising claims such as humanely raised, free range, and pasture raised. Even though the USDA is charged with ensuring that label claims are honest and not misleading, the guidance does little to align labeling practices with consumer expectations of the claims. For instance, the guidance continues to allow meat and poultry producers to keep animals confined in barren, cramped, often windowless structures, and still include the claim humanely raised on their packaging. It also allows producers to define these claims however they choose, putting the onus on consumers to decipher the meaning and merit of the assertions.

A majority of consumers questioned in a survey commissioned by AWI stated that claims such as humanely raised should signify that animals had access to the outdoors and adequate space to move about freely. Only 10 percent of those surveyed felt that producers should be allowed to use a humanely raised claim on pork products if the pigs were confined indoors for their entire lives; a mere 12 percent thought it was acceptable to use the term for cattle kept in feedlots.

AWI and over a thousand of our supporters wrote to the USDA asking the department to make changes to the guidance document. Specifically, we asked the USDA to (1) require third-party certification for animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims, (2) define animal living claims such as free range and pasture raised so that they are only approved if producers meet established standards, including minimum space allowances and access to vegetation for animals, (3) prohibit the use of feedlots for the grass-fed claim, and (4) require more documentation to substantiate claims.