Ag Policy Blog

USDA Labeling Guidelines on Animal-Raising Claims for Meat and Poultry

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA on Friday released revised labeling guidelines for claims regarding how animals are raised. (DTN file photo)

USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service on Friday issued revised guidance on meat and poultry labels that make claims about how the animals were raised, claims such as grass-fed beef or pasture-raised poultry. The original guidance from 2002 was updated and posted in October 2016 for public comment.

FSIS Labeling Guideline on Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submissions:…

Federal Register notice:…

Kelly Nuckolls, food safety policy specialist with the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said NSAC was pleased that FSIS has clarified that the USDA organic label is now sufficient documentation for making a variety of other label claims that are supported by the organic claim, including “raised without antibiotics,” “no added hormones,” “no animal-by-products,” and “non-GMO.” This is consistent with an NSAC recommendation and will reduce unnecessary duplicative paperwork for organic producers.

Nuckolls said NSAC also thanked FSIS for clarifying specifically that feedlot beef can never be labeled as grass fed. While FSIS did not prohibit percentage grass-fed claims as NSAC recommended, they did specify in the new guidance that percentage claims must more accurately reflect their feeding history by for instance reading “Made from cows that are fed 85% grass and 15% corn” rather than simply saying “85% grass fed.”

The new guidance also provides more clarity with respect to “no sub-therapeutic antibiotics” claims. Now, rather than simply making that claim, the label will also need to provide some additional explanatory information, such as “Animals do not receive antibiotics on a daily basis only in the case of illness.”

Yet, NSAC also stated that while the standards in place provide additional clarity around what certain labeling claims mean, the labeling approval process is still fundamentally flawed. Label approval based solely on paper documentation fails to prove the animal raising claim requirements are actually met.

NSAC agreed with FSIS that third-party certification may not always be economically feasible and practical. However, in instances without third-party certification, there needs to be a verification system for animal raising claims - not merely paper documentation and affidavits - when there are suspect claims being made in the marketplace, NSAC stated.

NSAC also called on FSIS and Congress to continue to pursue whatever additional authority and funding may be necessary to address the problem of false claims. The group stated, "This is an urgent matter. False claims weaken the market that sustainable livestock producers have built, harming them economically and misleading consumers, NSAC stated.

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