Why the “Humanely Raised” Label You’re Paying for Might Be Meaningless

January 7, 2020


Late last month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) released updated labeling guidelines [PDF] for meat and eggs featuring claims related to animal welfare and rearing conditions. The guide included common packaging labels like “free range,” “grass-fed,” “humanely raised” and “pasture raised.”

This announcement comes three years after FSIS requested public comment on criteria for animal raising claims on meat and poultry products. The ASPCA and over 15,000 of our supporters submitted comments seeking stronger standards for many terms that would result in meaningful improvements to animal welfare. While FSIS’s new guidelines do require improved standards for the use of certain claims, the Agency largely ignored the concerns of animal advocates and other stakeholders and continued a pattern of allowing producers to mislead consumers through loosely defined claims.

Regrettably, any improvements FSIS made to its guidelines are largely moot because of the Agency’s refusal to change its claim verification and documentation process. FSIS’s labeling guidelines are enforced on a case-by-case basis and verified primarily by producer-submitted affidavits. FSIS also does not conduct assessments in person, but rather relies on second-hand information submitted by producers. Further, the Agency will continue to allow producers to self-define claims like “humanely raised” and “pasture raised,” leaving consumers in the dark about what these claims actually mean. In its submitted comments, the ASPCA urged FSIS to require producers to include photographic or video evidence in the documentation they submit to support their animal welfare claims; however, the Agency rejected this approach.

In an age when consumers are demanding better conditions for animals and more transparency in the food system, it is unconscionable that FSIS refuses to adequately protect the public from misleading claims. The Agency’s updated guidelines—which enable companies raising animals in factory farm conditions to use claims like “humanely raised”—harm animals, consumers and the farmers who are actually raising animals to higher welfare standards. 

Through this announcement, FSIS has made it clear that it does not intend to hold meat and egg producers to more rigorous standards when it comes to using animal raising claims. It is therefore necessary for Congress to introduce and pass legislation to clearly define these terms and demand truthful labels. In the meantime, you have the power to fight deceptive labeling and support more humane farming by joining our Factory Farm Detox, a one-week commitment to eliminate factory farmed foods from your diet.