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Free Range Fiction

  • A Greener World

A “pasture-raised” label claim on meat, dairy or eggs means the animal was raised on pasture, right? Spoiler alert: Not exactly, because it is not always used honestly. So, how can conscientious consumers correctly confirm pasture-raised products in the marketplace?

 

False claims

A Greener World (AGW) has long championed the benefits of pasture-raised products. Simply put, they’re better for animals, the environment, and human health. Yet the lack of any legal definition for “pasture-raised” claims has led to frequent misuse, resulting in consumer confusion when trying to identify truly pasture-raised products in the marketplace. Without third-party certification, there is no guarantee that animals labeled as “pasture-raised” were actually raised outdoors on pasture.

It’s a strikingly similar situation when it comes to the “free range” claim. Current labeling regulations permit the use of “free range” claims on meat and poultry products even if the animals are raised in enclosed confinement systems without significant pasture access.

 

FSIS petition

To address this issue, AGW recently submitted comments on a petition urging the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to establish distinct definitions for “free range” and “pasture-raised” label claims for meat and poultry products. We also used the opportunity to call for updated guidance on label claims related to living and raising conditions to ensure alignment with consumer expectations. Here’s a summary of our comments to FSIS:

  • Consumers need clear information about production systems, outdoor access, outdoor area size, duration of outdoor time for animals, and breed suitability to their environment.
  • At present, a “pasture-raised” label claim does not ensure high-welfare or sustainable practices, as many consumers assume, and requires comprehensive assessment beyond basic pasture access.
  • “Free range” is distinct from “pasture-raised,” and legal definitions are needed for both claims.
  • Certifications like Certified Animal Welfare Approved by AGW should automatically validate “pasture-raised” claims.
  • Legally defining label claims will prevent consumer confusion and protect farmers by ensuring a common and transparent meaning.

We passionately believe consumers should have access to clear and truthful information about the farm production system when they buy meat and poultry products. At present, labeling a product as “pasture-raised” or “free range” offers no assurance of access to pasture or range, let alone high-welfare or environmentally sustainable practices.

 

Help us help you

Whether you are raising animals outdoors on pasture or you are shopping for pasture-raised products, we encourage you to support our ongoing efforts to improve labeling practices. Let’s advocate for greater transparency in the food system together by demanding clear and accurate food labeling, and for meaningful food labels that benefit animals, the environment, and human health.

 

Scan this QR code to read A Greener World’s full response to Petition 23-03, which requests that FSIS conduct rulemaking to define separate “free range”and “pasture-raised” claims.

 

Author: Katie Amos is AGW’s Director of Communications and Outreach

 

Originally published in the Summer 2024 issue of AGW’s Sustainable Farming magazine.

 

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