The USDA Is Allowing Consumers to Be Misled


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Don't be Fooled by the Claim 'Natural'Dear Humanitarian,

The US Department of Agriculture is charged with ensuring that animal raising label claims on meat and poultry products are truthful and not misleading. Yet, the USDA's current approval process for claims such as "humanely raised," "free range," and "pasture raised," allow practices that are a far cry from consumer expectations. A producer may keep animals crammed in barren sheds by the thousands, with no natural light, and ammonia-soaked litter that burns their eyes and skin, yet still slap a "humanely raised" label claim on the package.

Attempting to clarify its procedures, the USDA recently published a new guidance document that explains the department's approval process for animal raising claims. Unfortunately, the new guidance does nothing to align label claim requirements with consumer expectations. It continues to allow producers to define claims however they like, and puts the onus on consumers to decipher the meaning of label claims.

Like consumers, animals and farmers are also harmed when the USDA does not properly regulate label claims. The new guidance actually discourages producers from providing higher welfare for animals, because producers can maintain the status quo and still receive a premium for claiming that the animals were raised in a more humane manner. Farmers who actually do meet higher welfare standards and incur the costs associated with those standards are thus disadvantaged in the marketplace.

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