The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals submitted a petition with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to begin the rulemaking process to eliminate its label-approval program for any labels relating to claims about the conditions in which animals were raised.
The FSIS, which does not regulate the on-farm treatment of animals raised for meat, bases its approval of claims such as “humanely raised” or “raised in a stress-free environment” on the companies’ own submissions, with no audit or supporting evidence required. PETA claims as a result, companies can submit claims that are completely false or grossly misleading and still get the FSIS’ stamp of approval—and the financial motivation to do so is high.
“By approving labels without confirming, or even the ability to confirm, the information supporting the claims on them, FSIS is allowing companies to make variable, unverifiable, and false claims, thereby also violating its statutory responsibility to ensure labels on meat products are not false or misleading,” says PETA in its petition.
In December 2019, FSIS released a set of guidelines detailing the documentation required to substantiate animal raising claims for label submissions. The guidelines require companies to submit the following documentation for FSIS approval of labels bearing animal raising claims:
1. A detailed written description explaining the controls used for ensuring that the raising claim is valid from birth to harvest or the period of raising being referenced by the claim;
2. A signed and dated document describing how the animals are raised which may include feed formulations (e.g., vegetarian fed, raised without antibiotics, grass fed), to support that the specific claim made is truthful and not misleading;
3. A written description of the product tracing and segregation mechanism from time of slaughter or further processing through packaging and wholesale or retail distribution;
4. A written description for the identification, control, and segregation of nonconforming animals/product; and
5. If a third-party certifies a claim, a current copy of the certificate from the certifying organization.
Studies reveal that 67% of consumers are more likely to purchase items labeled as “humanely raised” and that shoppers are willing to spend as much as 30% more on products from companies claiming to treat animals “humanely,” PETA explains.
“By signing off on meaningless ‘humane’ labels, the FSIS is giving companies carte blanche to charge more for products that are just as cruel as their ‘conventional’ counterparts,” says PETA Foundation General Counsel for Animal Law Jared Goodman. “The only ‘humane’ meal is a vegan one, and PETA is calling on the FSIS to stop giving the government’s stamp of approval to companies that tell well-intentioned consumers otherwise.”