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CU concerned about USDA’s meat labeling efforts

February 11, 2009
The Honorable Tom Vilsack
Secretary of Agriculture
1400 Independence Avenue SW
Washington, DC 202050
Submitted via: facsimile and email
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
We are writing to you to express our deep concern about a variety of meat marketing labeling efforts being undertaken at USDA. Consumers Union, the non-profit publisher of Consumer Reports, has been rating, reporting and informing consumers about product claims for years. In the last seven years, we have met several times with the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) to help lend our expertise, including consumer survey data, to help USDA in providing the most meaningful label standards that meet consumer expectations. However, we have immediate and long term concerns about the standards behind many of the labels overseen by USDA and the lack of harmonization across Agencies within the Department in the oversight of current labeling terms.
1. “Naturally raised” label should be withdrawn
Our most immediate labeling concern pertains to January 16, 2009 publication of a Federal Register notice regarding the “naturally raised” standard [Doc. No. AMS-LS-07-0131; LS-07-16]. While this was issued as a final notice, it has not been approved by Office of Management and Budget to meet the Paperwork Reduction Act. In this notice, issued in the very final days of the previous Administration, USDA finalized a very limited standard for “naturally raised”: per the notice, the standard would mean only that the meat or poultry in question was raised without certain antibiotics, animal byproducts and growth promotants.
The standards behind this claim fall significantly short of consumer expectations as revealed in a national telephone poll conducted by Consumer Reports’ National Research Center. The poll, released in November 20081 showed American consumers want the “naturally raised” meat claim to mean more than USDA’s proposed standard, including that it came from an animal that:
• Had a diet free of chemicals, drugs and animal byproducts (86%)
• Was raised in a natural environment (85%)
• Ate a natural diet (85%)
• Was not cloned or genetically engineered (78%)
• Had access to the outdoors (77%)
• Was treated humanely (76%)
• Was not confined (68%)
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