I have been alerted that the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is seeking comments on a proposed voluntary standard for a "naturally raised" marketing claim for meats. According to its Notice and Request for Comments for Docket AMS-LS-07-0131; LS-07-16, "the livestock and meat supply chain, along with consumers could benefit from a uniform standard for the marketing of this type of product." The definition for "naturally raised" proposed by USDA is:
"Livestock used for the production of meat and meat products have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics, and have never been fed mammalian or avian by-products. This information shall be contained on any label claim that an animal has been naturally raised."
Jeff Swain, the head honcho at Niman Ranch, thinks this is bunk, and so do I. Like many of us who have been calling for more clear-cut definitions, we feel this stated policy lacks teeth and substance. Consumers purchase a product labeled "naturally raised," and their desire is to feed their families a wholesome, safe, clean, and responsibly raised product. He says that"Naturally Raised," such as the term "Organic" before it, is about to get keelhauled. No one acknowledges what it means to consumers! "Naturally raised" must mean, as Swain put it in a recent e-mail:
"that the animals were raised in an environment that promotes sustainability. When consumers purchase natural meats they feel they are making a commitment to their environment. Thus, raising animals in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs) should not be labeled as 'naturally raised' as these operations pose a documented threat to our air and water quality. Naturally raised meat must be a 'never-ever' product. This means that from birth to harvest, there must be no antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, steroids or other chemicals that could potentially pose a health risk to consumers. Although we do believe in humanely treating sick animals, we feel those treated must be sold through the conventional market. Animals raised with care in comfortable, bedded conditions, smaller sized herds, with minimal crowding and ample fresh air will more than likely be less stressed and healthier, reducing the need for antibiotics or other drugs."
Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute, asks consumers to urge the USDA to include animal welfare criteria in the standards:
"We are seeking a better result. The definition as proposed contains no stipulations concerning the animals' own welfare or how the animals live, but applies narrow criteria related only to feed or other substances administered to animals. While farmers who raise animals under high welfare conditions should be covered by this term, the industrial producers will seek a weak definition so they can profit by selling the products of cruelly raised animals labeled as 'naturally raised.'"
As Swain and Liss suggested to me, let’s urge the USDA to write a definition for "naturally raised" that: "requires farm animals, including poultry, to be raised in a manner that is consistent with the biology and natural behavior of the species; disqualifies farms that use gestation crates, farrowing crates, battery cages, calf crates, slatted floors and liquefied manure, and other equipment or facilities typical of unnatural factory systems and requires that animals have free access to continuous range on fresh pasture or woodlands or, in inclement weather, be able to move freely in comfortable housing and clean bedding until outdoor conditions improve."
I’ll make it easy for you:
Comments may be submitted online, via regular mail, or by fax until March 3.
The AMS website:
There is a link under "United States Standards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims, Naturally Raised Claim for Livestock and the Meat and Meat Products Derived From Such Livestock" for you to "Send a Comment or Submission."
Naturally Raised Marketing Claim
Room 2607–S, AMS, USDA
1400 Independence Ave. SW
Washington, D.C. 20250–0254
Go for it, Minnesota.