In 2014, AWI petitioned the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to amend labeling regulations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA) and the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) to require independent third-party certification for the approval of animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims on meat and poultry products. Animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims pertain to multiple facets of animal raising and production, as opposed to other meat and poultry labeling claims, such as “No Antibiotics Administered,” “Free Range,” or “Grass Fed,” that typically relate to only one or two aspects of production.
AWI believed rulemaking was necessary to (1) prevent the misleading and deceptive use of animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims, (2) provide for consistency and transparency in the label approval process, (3) meet consumer expectations for the label approval process, and (4) protect from financial harm those farmers making legitimate use of these value-added claims.
The USDA tried to resolve problems with its label approval process in 2016 by issuing a guidance document related to animal raising claims. However, the document was so inadequate that more than 99 percent of those members of the public who submitted comments at the time were opposed to it because the guidance continued to allow for misleading claims and did not increase transparency. Moreover, as many commenters noted, it carried no mandate for third-party certification of animal welfare and sustainability claims.
AWI’s research on the topic confirms that, despite the USDA’s attempts, labels are still routinely approved with little to no supporting evidence. AWI hopes this lawsuit will force the USDA to take much-needed action to address its failing label approval process. Requiring independent inspection by third parties will simplify the process and ensure that “humane” and “sustainable” claims made on food packages are vetted. Additionally, if the USDA requires third-party certification for animal welfare and sustainability claims, more producers will participate in these programs and more animals will be raised under higher, more transparent care standards.
Click here to learn more about labeling of animal products.
Case Name: Animal Welfare Institute v. US Department of Agriculture et al.
Nature of Case: The Animal Welfare Institute brought claims against the US Department of Agriculture for failing to respond to a petition to amend label regulations under the Federal Meat Inspection Act and the Poultry Products Inspection Act to require third-party certification for the approval of animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims.
Court: US District Court, District of Columbia
Year Filed: 2018
Plaintiffs: Animal Welfare Institute
Defendants: United States Department of Agriculture, Food Safety and Inspection Service
Status: Closed. In February 2019, the USDA responded to AWI’s petition and declined to engage in rulemaking. This mooted AWI’s case. AWI is actively considering other legal solutions to this problem.
- FSIS Denial of AWI’s Petition (February 2019)
- Complaint against the USDA (November 2018)
- Petition to Amend Label Regulations (May 2014)
Selected Case Media:
- AWI Sues USDA Over Weak Label Requirements for Animal Food Products – AWI Press Release, November 14, 2018