Naturally raised, often used as a marketing tool to attract consumers concerned about animal welfare, has up until now not had a official definition.
The new standard states that livestock used for the production of meat and meat products have:
1. been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control)
2. have never been fed animal by-products
The voluntary standard will establish the minimum requirements for those producers who choose to operate a USDA-verified program involving a naturally raised claim. USDA analyzed over 44,000 comments from producers, processors, consumers, and other interested parties in the development of this standard.
Many are concerned that:
a) the standards aren't stringent enough on what it means to 'naturally raise' an animal. Under this ruling, animals raised in CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) can still be tagged natural.
b) the new label will undercut the USDA Organic certification and/or farmers pushing to establish sustainable raised meat.
The Consumers Union and Food and Water Watch say the new standards sanction un-natural practices.
"This regulation will allow an animal that has come from a cloned or genetically engineered stock, was physically altered, raised in confinement without ever seeing the light of day or green of pasture, in poor hygiene conditions with a diet laced in pesticides to be labeled as ‘naturally raised.’ This falls significantly short of consumer expectations and only adds to the roster of misleading label claims approved by USDA for so-called natural meat," said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, Senior Scientist and Policy Analyst at Consumers Union.
"These last minute rules for the 'naturally-raised' label on meat practically invite agribusiness to greenwash their products and rip off consumers" stated Patty Lovera, assistant director for consumer group Food & Water Watch. "Until these standards are revised, consumers will have to navigate another set of misleading labels at the grocery store."
USDA said it received more that 44,000 comments about the rule, while Consumers Union and FWW generated more than 36,000 signatures stating that the USDA's proposed standards for "naturally raised" were flawed, would only confuse consumers and should be withdrawn.
A national telephone poll conducted by Consumer Reports’ National Research Center released in November 2008 showed American consumers want the “naturally raised” meat claim to mean more than USDA's proposed standard, including that it came from an animal that:
• Had a diet free of chemicals, drugs and animal byproducts (86%)
• Was raised in a natural environment (85%)
• Ate a natural diet (85%)
• Was not cloned or genetically engineered (78%)
• Had access to the outdoors (77%)
• Was treated humanely (76%)
• Was not confined (68%)