USDA is implementing a multi-step effort aimed at strengthening the substantiation of animal-raising claims.
Animal-raising claims, such as “grass-fed” and “free-range,” are voluntary marketing claims that highlight certain aspects of how animals for meat and poultry products are raised. These claims must be approved by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) before they can be included on the labels of meat and poultry products sold to consumers. FSIS most recently updated its guideline on these claims in 2019.
“Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack in a statement.
FSIS has received several petitions, comments, and letters from a wide range of stakeholders asking the agency to reevaluate its oversight of animal-raising claims, specifically, how they are substantiated. In addition, the veracity of “negative” antibiotics claims (e.g., “raised without antibiotics” or “no antibiotics ever”) has come into question.
FSIS, in partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), will be conducting a sampling project to assess antibiotic residues in cattle destined for the “raised without antibiotics” market. The results of this project will help inform whether FSIS should require that laboratory testing results be submitted for the “raised without antibiotics” claim or start a new verification sampling program.
FSIS will also be issuing a revised industry guideline to recommend that companies strengthen the documentation they submit to the agency to substantiate animal-raising claims. The agency plans to strongly encourage use of third-party certification to verify these claims.