USDA Announces Plans to Strengthen Substantiation of Animal-Raising Claims on Meat and Poultry Product Labels

Poultry products in a grocery store.
Photo by hacohob

Washington, DCThe US Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced today that it will soon take steps to improve its label approval program for meat and poultry products to avoid misleading consumers. Specifically, the FSIS is planning to issue revised industry guidelines that will encourage companies to strengthen the documentation they submit to the agency to substantiate animal-raising claims and to use third-party certification to verify those claims.

The FSIS will also conduct a sampling project of antibiotic residues in cattle to determine whether enhanced measures may be necessary to verify “raised without antibiotics” claims, including requiring that producers submit laboratory test results. The agency signaled that it may also conduct rulemaking related to these actions, which would codify the changes.

In response to this announcement, Dena Jones, farmed animal program director for the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), issued the following statement:

AWI welcomes the FSIS’s announcement and the actions it intends to take to strengthen its meat and poultry label approval program. We support the agency’s efforts to ensure the accuracy of “raised without antibiotics” claims, enhance substantiation of animal-raising claims, and increase the use of third-party certification to verify those claims.

AWI has issued multiple reports over the last decade documenting how the USDA routinely allows producers to use “higher-welfare” claims on products from animals raised under conventional industry standards. The current approval process is inadequate and ripe for exploitation.

We have long urged the USDA to require producers to obtain third-party certification to verify certain animal-raising claims, such as holistic assertions related to animal welfare (e.g., “humane”) and environmental stewardship (e.g., “sustainable” or “regenerative”). Allowing producers to make animal welfare claims without adhering to higher standards harms animals, higher-welfare farmers, and consumers who expect these claims to indicate better treatment of animals.

While we appreciate the actions announced today, there is more that FSIS must do to strengthen the substantiation of animal-raising claims. For example, in 2016, AWI petitioned the agency to clarify the “free range” claim. Earlier his year, we commented in support of another petition asking the FSIS to better differentiate between “free range” and “pasture raised” claims. The FSIS should move quickly to respond to these petitions and resolve ongoing confusion and misuse of these claims.

Media Contact Information

Marjorie Fishman, Animal Welfare Institute
[email protected], (202) 446-2128

The Animal Welfare Institute ( is a nonprofit charitable organization founded in 1951 and dedicated to reducing animal suffering caused by people. AWI engages policymakers, scientists, industry, and the public to achieve better treatment of animals everywhere—in the laboratory, on the farm, in commerce, at home, and in the wild. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for updates and other important animal protection news.