USDA Sued Over Misleading 'Humane' and 'Sustainable' Meat Claims

The Animal Welfare Institute wants the Agency to address a 2014 petition demanding third-party certification of these claims.
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USDA Sued Over Misleading 'Humane' Meat Claims

The Animal Welfare Institute has filed a lawsuit against the USDA for "unreasonable" delay in responding to a 2014 petition asking the agency to require independent, third-party certification of claims like “humane,” “sustainable,” “animal compassionate,” and “raised with care.”

The Administrative Procedure Act requires federal agencies to respond to petitions such as AWI's within a “reasonable time;” AWI asserts that the more than four years since it filed its petition surpasses this.

The use of these claims, writes AWI in a press release, has increased in recent years, due to growing consumer concern regarding animal welfare and label transparency. Requiring third-party certification would normalize the meaning of these claims throughout the industry.

“The USDA’s current policy surrounding the approval of animal raising claims on meat and poultry packages utterly fails consumers,” says Dena Jones, director of AWI’s farm animal program. “For consumers concerned about farm animal welfare and environmental sustainability, third-party certification will provide much-needed cues for making food choices that are consistent with personal values.”

The USDA attempted to resolve issues related to this process in 2016 by issuing a guidance document regarding how these labeling claims should be used, but AWI claims the document was “inadequate.”

“The guidance continued to allow for misleading claims and did not increase transparency,” writes the group. “Moreover, as commenters noted, it carried no mandate for third-party certification of animal welfare and sustainability claims.”

An online survey of more than 2,000 adults commissioned by AWI and conducted by The Harris Poll in October found that 89 percent of consumers do not agree with the current USDA practice for label claim approval. The policy currently consists of either reviewing producer statements testifying they meet the USDA definition of the term or accepting the use of producer-defined terms.

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