The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) recently announced a multi-step effort to strengthen oversight of animal-raising claims.
Animal-raising claims are voluntary marketing claims about meat and poultry animal-raising practices. For example, to use a "Grass Fed" or "100% Grass Fed" claim, the meat or meat product must be derived from cattle that were only fed grass after being weaned from their mother's milk. These animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season until slaughter. As a practical manner, these animals are never confined to a feedlot. Ranchers are required to keep documents proving their practices comply with these requirements. Moreover, labels with animal-raising claims must be approved by FSIS.
The first step in FSIS's proposed multi-step process will be to partner with the USDA's Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to conduct sampling for antibiotic residues in cattle destined for the "raised without antibiotics" market. FSIS hopes to use the results to decide whether it should start a new verification sampling program or to require lab test results from growers that want to make the claim. Either way, it appears FSIS is poised to make changes to the substantiation needed for these antibiotic-related claims.
The second step will be releasing revised industry guidelines on how companies can strengthen their documentary proof to substantiate animal-raising claims. FSIS last updated its guidance on animal-raising claims in 2019.
The Latest Guidance
The 2019 guidance provides that, for most animal-raising claims, the documentation typically needed to support these claims is:
- A detailed written description explaining the controls used for ensuring that the raising claim is valid from birth to harvest or the period of raising being referenced by the claim;
- A signed and dated document describing how the animals are raised, which may include feed formulations (e.g., vegetarian fed, raised without antibiotics, grass fed), to support that the specific claim made is truthful and not misleading;
- A written description of the product tracing and segregation mechanism from time of slaughter or further processing through packaging and wholesale or retail distribution;
- A written description for the identification, control, and segregation of non-conforming animals/product; and
- If a third-party certifies a claim, a current copy of the certificate from the certifying organization.
Possible Next Steps
FSIS has not said whether these documentation requirements will be modified. However, USDA's announcement follows heightened interest in the use of "negative" antibiotic claims, such as "raised without antibiotics." Given the recency of the 2019 guidance, it's possible that the only modifications will relate to these negative antibiotic claims.