USDA Urged to Address Misleading Label Claims

Four US senators, led by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), have written to Sandra Eskin, the US Department of Agriculture’s deputy under secretary for food safety, expressing concern about the department’s process for evaluating animal-raising claims such as “humanely raised” and “sustainably raised.” The senators cited an AWI report indicating that 85 percent of analyzed animal-raising claims on meat and poultry products lacked adequate substantiation. (See AWI Quarterly, fall 2022.) The USDA has the authority to deny the use of labels believed to be misleading. AWI’s review of label applications over the past decade, however, found that higher-welfare claims on labels have proliferated in the marketplace without USDA approval—or with only marginal evidence to support these claims.

AWI reviewed 97 label claims dating to 2013. For nearly half (48), the USDA was unable to provide any application submitted by the producer, suggesting a significant percentage of meat and poultry products in the marketplace contain unapproved claims. Of the remaining claims, most producers provided minimal documentation that, at best, merely indicated compliance with basic industry animal care standards. 

In 2021, President Biden signed an executive order directing the USDA to address how consolidation in the agricultural sector is hurting small farmers. AWI urged the USDA to include an examination of its label-approval process as part of this effort—since allowing industrial operators to make dubious welfare claims undercuts small farmers who actually do adhere to higher standards. In May 2022, the USDA announced a review of these claims but has yet to release any findings or updated label guidelines. 

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