January 16, 2009
WASHINGTON — Following news reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had issued a voluntary standard for so-called “naturally raised” livestock and meat marketing claims, Consumers Union (CU) and Food & Water Watch (FWW) criticized the last-minute regulation, saying the labeling effort was misleading and fell short of consumer expectations. The announcement comes days before the change in federal government administrations in Washington.
The naturally raised marketing claim standard states livestock used for meat production have been raised without growth promotants and without antibiotics, except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control, and have not been fed animal by-products.
CU and FWW said, aiming to ban antibiotics, animal byproducts, and growth promotants are all important practices that should be labeled specifically and discreetly and not couched under a vague and misleading term that does not address how the animals were raised, their main diet, treatment of animals, space requirements and other concerns.
“This regulation will allow an animal that has come from a cloned or genetically engineered stock, was physically altered, raised in confinement without ever seeing the light of day or green of pasture, in poor hygiene conditions with a diet laced in pesticides to be labeled as ‘naturally raised.’ This falls significantly short of consumer expectations and only adds to the roster of misleading label claims approved by USDA for so-called natural meat,” said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union.
“These last minute rules for the ‘naturally-raised’ label on meat practically invite agribusiness to greenwash their products and rip off consumers” stated Patty Lovera, assistant director for consumer group Food & Water Watch. “Until these standards are revised, consumers will have to navigate another set of misleading labels at the grocery store.”
USDA said it received more that 44,000 comments about the rule, while Consumers Union and FWW generated more than 36,000 signatures stating that the USDA’s proposed standards for “naturally raised” were flawed, would only confuse consumers and should be withdrawn.
A national telephone poll conducted by Consumer Reports’ National Research Center released in November 2008 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%)
David Butler, Consumers Union, 202-462-6262
Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, is an independent, nonprofit testing and information organization serving the consumer. We are a comprehensive source of unbiased advice about products and services, personal finance, health, nutrition, and other consumer concerns. Since 1936, our mission has been to test products, inform the public, and protect consumers.