USDA to Revise Guidelines for Labels Like “Free-Range” and “Grass-Fed”

On Wednesday, the USDA announced it was “implementing a multi-step effort” to help substantiate labeling claims on meat and poultry products regarding how the animals were raised.

The idea behind this is that labels used in marketing, such as “grass-fed” or “free-range,” which are currently voluntary, need to be verified by the Food Safety and Inspection Service so that consumers can have more trust in what they are buying – as well as in the USDA approval on the packaging. Cattle labeled as “raised without antibiotics” will be assessed to check for antibiotic residue, and whether verification is needed there, as well.

More clarity and trust is an important goal. Food labeling can be confusing. Sometimes it feels like you need a chemistry degree just to make sense of the ingredients listed on a bag of Doritos – and hardly anybody cares how a Dorito was raised. When it comes to health and animal welfare claims that are seen as making a product more desirable to consumers, avoiding confusion takes on more urgency. Allowing producers to slap on appealing, but befuddling and/or meaningless labels takes advantage of consumers’ good intentions, and undermines trust in the agencies we empower to enforce safety and fair play.

USDA to revise meat labeling guidelines for claims like ‘grass-fed’ or ‘free-range’

★     (Press Release) USDA Launches Effort to Strengthen Substantiation of Animal-Raising Claims
★     Food Ingredients of Public Health Concern (See Nitrate Language)