USDA announces plans to strengthen substantiation of animal-raising claims

June 15, 2023

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) announced yesterday that it will soon take steps to improve its label approval program for meat and poultry products to avoid misleading consumers. The FSIS plan includes guidance on marketing claims such as “grass-fed,” “free-range” and antibiotic usage. The release indicates that FSIS will also conduct a sampling project of antibiotic residues in livestock to determine whether enhanced measures may be necessary to verify “raised without antibiotics” claims, including a requirement to submit laboratory test results. The agency may conduct rulemaking related to these labeling actions, which would codify these changes.

Last month, the Further Processors Division of United Egg Association (UEA) provided comments on a petition from Perdue Foods, LLC to FSIS seeking to “remove ‘pasture-raised’ from claims considered synonymous with ‘free range’ and further amend its current Compliance Guideline such that ‘pasture-raised’ is separately and specifically defined.” Egg producers commonly differentiate free-range and pasture-raised in the layer industry through established non-governmental certifications. Though the two most popular certifications for these claims do not match precisely, they have provided stability for the industry and ensured that on-label raising claims related to free-range and pasture production methods meet established standards. These certifications already ensure that free-range and pasture are neither interchangeable nor misleading in eggs and include vegetation requirements. As the agency continues investigating these animal-raising claims, third-party certification programs must be part of any claims made.