RE: Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0131; LS-07-16
Background and Response of the Organic Trade Association to this AMS Proposal for a Naturally Raised Claim for Livestock Products
Background to Issue
Many livestock producers now seek to distinguish their products through process-based claims such as "no antibiotics," "free-range," and similar terms. Of such claims, only "organically produced" is clearly defined and regulated through a mandatory certification program.
The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), USDA has issued a Notice and Request for Comments concerning a proposed voluntary standard for a naturally raised marketing claim. This claim would apply to livestock products, and would refer only to how the animal was raised, not to the slaughter or processing methods or to substances used to produce the product.
This proposal is independent of the "natural" label claim that is currently permitted by the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which can be used on a livestock product that does not contain artificial flavors, colorings, chemical preservatives or other synthetic ingredients, and that is minimally processed. FSIS has recently sought public input concerning possible revisions to this voluntary standard, but to date no final revisions have been proposed. Regarding this, please refer to OTA's comments on FSIS Docket 2006-0040 on January 11, 2007 at http://www.ota.com/pp/otaposition/frc.html.
This proposal is also separate from the newly authorized "grass fed" label claim. This voluntary standard, published in the Federal Register on October 16, 2007, permits the claim to be used for livestock products derived from ruminant animals. It stipulates that animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
The Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has indicated that it has no plans for now to establish a definition for the term "natural" as used for beverage and food products. FDA received two petitions last year requesting that it clearly define the term, but has concluded that there is not sufficient evidence that consumers are being confused and misled.
The AMS proposal would allow a voluntary labeling claim of "naturally raised" on livestock products if the animals were raised without growth promotants and antibiotics, and have never been fed mammalian or avian by-products. Health products such as vaccines, parasite control products, antibody preparations, and bloat prevention and treatment products could be used, animals could be fed vitamin and mineral supplements.
This claim is independent of the FSIS approved term "natural," which applies to processed livestock products that do not contain artificial flavors, colorings, chemical preservatives or other synthetic ingredients, and that are minimally processed. The claim could be verified through the AMS Process Verified Program, by auditing the producer's detailed documented quality management system.
1. The FSIS claim of "natural" should not be independent of a claim of "naturally raised."
It will be confusing for consumers if a meat product can have a "natural" label but not "naturally raised," and vice versa. Under this proposal it would be possible for a "naturally raised" meat product to contain undesirable additives and preservatives if it does not use the "natural" label. A "natural" meat product could have been raised under "unnatural" conditions and be fed hormones, antibiotics, and meat by-products. It would be preferable to require a livestock product that was permitted to use either a "natural" or "naturally raised" claim to comply with both the FSIS "natural" and the AMS "naturally raised" requirements.
2. Verification of the "naturally raised" claim, whether through the USDA Process Verified Program or through a private third party verification program, should be mandatory for those choosing to use this label claim.
The proposal would require products using the "naturally raised" claim to be accompanied by a brief statement explaining the claim and attributes. This statement could be verified through the USDA Process Verified Program, but it is not clear whether producers making this claim would be required to do so.
The Summary section says, "If this voluntary standard is established, livestock producers participating in this program would have their naturally raised claim verified through the Department of agriculture (USDA)." However, the Background section states that "FSIS would not establish a new provision limiting the use of the term naturally raised to labels in which participants meet this standard with a USDA QSVP." The actual proposal states that "Verification of the proposed claim will (emphasis added) be accomplished through an audit of the production process. The producer must be able to verify for AMS that the naturally raised marketing claim standard requirements are being met through a detailed documented quality management system." This seems to imply that the producer only has to be able to document the claim if AMS decides to conduct an audit, not actually participate in a verification program. Clarification is needed that any such claims must be independently verified.
3. The proposed standards for "naturally raised" do not address critical requirements that should be included, such as living conditions, health care (other than prohibition of antibiotics and growth promotants), socialization, alterations, access to pasture or outdoors, or diet (other than prohibition of mammalian or avian by-products).
Label claims such as "no antibiotics" and "vegetarian feed" are currently permitted for livestock products, and can be used to identify such practices without resorting to the inherently vague claim of "naturally raised." Consumers would reasonably expect an animal that is "naturally raised" to be raised primarily outdoors, for young mammals to be permitted to nurse for a species appropriate duration, to not be subject to alterations or mutilations, to be provided feed rations appropriate for the species (i.e., primarily pasture and roughage for ruminants), to have conditions that permit adequate exercise and expression of social behaviors, and similar requirements that are not addressed by this proposal. A meaningful standard for "naturally raised" should therefore address significantly more factors than those identified in the AMS proposal.
Finally, we are concerned that many consumers might also assume that a "naturally raised" animal had received organic feed. This would create additional confusion over the distinction between a product labeled as "naturally raised" and one that qualifies for the organic label.