This article comes from NGFA's June 16th newsletter.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced on June 14 that it is re-evaluating its oversight of animal-raising claims, including “grass-fed,” “free-range,” and “raised without antibiotics.”

USDA said it is implementing a “multi-step effort” to strengthen the substantiation of these claims, potentially ending in rulemaking on new requirements.

“Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate,” said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Currently, these are voluntary marketing claims that must be approved by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) before they can be included on the labels of meat and poultry products sold to consumers.

FSIS most recently updated its guideline on these claims in 2019. Since then, the agency said it has received several petitions, comments, and letters from stakeholders asking the agency to reevaluate how animal-raising claims are substantiated.

FSIS, in partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), announced it will be conducting a sampling project to assess antibiotic residues in cattle destined for the “raised without antibiotics” market.

The results of this project will help inform whether FSIS should require that laboratory testing results be submitted for the “raised without antibiotics” claim or start a new verification sampling program.

FSIS also will issue a revised industry guideline to recommend that companies strengthen the documentation they submit to the agency to substantiate animal-raising claims. The agency said it plans to strongly encourage the use of third-party certification to verify these claims.

These actions will be used to guide potential rulemaking, USDA stated.