The USDA has recently released its updated food labeling guideline for animal-raising claims made on meat and poultry products, three years after taking public comments on proposed changes. Disappointingly, the department failed to address a number of issues AWI raised in our comments and in a petition we submitted requesting that the USDA regulate “free range” and similar claims.
Under the new guideline, producers can continue to use animal-raising claims so long as a definition is also provided on the package. This allows producers to create their own definitions for complex animal welfare concepts that cannot possibly be adequately conveyed in the limited space the packaging provides. It also leads to confusion for consumers who are confronted with multiple definitions for a particular claim, and harms producers who actually adhere to higher welfare standards. The USDA asserts that its process prevents deceptive and misleading claims on meat and poultry products, when in reality the lack of proper oversight allows producers to exploit humane claims without actually improving the lives of their animals.
In addition to releasing the updated guideline, the USDA also requested further comment on the “free range” claim. In our comments, AWI argued producers should not be allowed to make this claim using their own definitions for it. Instead, the USDA should establish a clear and consistent definition that requires “free range” animals be provided adequate access to the outdoors, soil and vegetation, and protection from adverse weather and predators.