There are a number of unverified food label claims that have no legal significance, standards or definition, and have been created by the egg or meat industry to manipulate consumers. The U.S. government nor any independent third party verifies the following claims:
FREE RANGE & FREE ROAMING (for all products)
There is only an informal guideline for applications requesting the use of this claim, but there is no legal definition for this claim when used on any food product, nor does the USDA conduct farm visits or inspections to verify compliance with its guideline for the claim. The claim asserts that animals be given free access to the outdoors, but the size of the outdoor space, number of exits and amount or existence of vegetation is not specified. Nor are any other animal enrichments specified.
FREE RANGE & FREE ROAMING (Eggs)
For non-organic eggs, this claim generally means the hens were not confined to a cage, but there is no verification process or accredited agency acting as an overseer for non-organic egg producers. However, for USDA Certified Organic eggs, this claim will indicate that the hens were allowed access to the outdoors, and will be verified by a USDA-accredited organic certifying agency. Non-organic free range claims for eggs is not recognized or confirmed by any federal agency.
FREE RANGE & FREE ROAMING (Chicken, Turkey, Duck and Goose)
The USDA informally identifies free range for poultry as “having continuous, free access to the outdoors for over 51 percent of the birds’ life”. But the caveat here is that chickens used for meat are slaughtered in 6-8 weeks, so it’s unlikely that they are ever allowed outdoors, and certain weather conditions can mean birds are raised indoors or in sheds, not outside. With this claim, the farmer must submit testimonials and affidavits describing the conditions that the birds are raised.
CAGE FREE (Eggs)
The majority of “cage free” hens raised are housed in crowded large warehouse sheds, where the hens are crowded together with hardly more space to move than battery egg hens in cages. They may have access to one small door, which most never find and are fearful to walk out of or leave the other birds. On the other side of the door is rarely, if ever, grass – but usually a small dirt patch.The term is not used on eggs from hens who are raised in a pasture or roam freely. Beak cutting is permitted.
The term “cage free” indicates by the USDA that the eggs came from hens who were “never confined to a cage” and have unlimited access to food, water and can roam (in a shed). They rarely have access to sunlight or fresh air. This claim in not verified when used on non-USDA inspected eggs, only USDA-inspected eggs.
GRASS FED (Beef, Lamb, Goat, Bison, Dairy)
This is a voluntary standard, which requires that the animal have a lifetime diet of 100 percent grass and forage, pasture access during most of the growing season, but animals can be sent to feedlots to finish their lives. So it’s only a partial period of time, usually the first few months that are “grass fed.” Antibiotics and hormones can be used. Either the Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) or the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), under the USDA, can verify the claim, but the FSIS may apply a different standard than the AMS.
PASTURE RAISED / PASTURE GROWN (All products)
There is no independent or third-party verification of this claim, nor any regulatory standard for this term. It is the same as applies to “free range” with an informal definition that includes the animal having a continuous, free access to the outdoors and natural vegetation for a “significant portion of their lives.” Confinement is not ruled out, and they could be confined for some of their lives.
SUSTAINABLY FARMED (All products)
This claim or term has no USDA official definition, nor does it have an independent or third-party verification of this claim. The claim can mean almost anything the producer wants it to mean as it is so loosely defined.
NO ADDED HORMONES / NO HORMONES ADMINISTERED (Beef, Lamb, Bison, and Dairy)
There is no independent or third-party verification of this claim, the USDA does not approve “hormone free” claims – and these claims can only be used if there were no hormones given to the animal over the course of its lifetime. But the USDA does not test for this, so there’s no proof for the claim.
PASTURE RAISED / PASTURE GROWN
There is no regulatory standard for this claim, nor is there any independent or 3rd party verification process for the claim. It is only an informal term used to indicate that the animal had “continuous, free access to the outdoors for a significant portion of their lives”, but this does allow confinement for a portion of their life as well.
NATURALLY RAISED (Chicken, Turkey, Duck, Goose, Beef, Bison, Lamb, Goat and Pork)
This is a completely voluntary standard that could be verified by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) of the USDA. The claim means that the animal raised for meat (does not apply to dairy and eggs) that was not administered antibiotics and hormones and were fed a vegetarian diet. This claim does not refer to or extend to the living conditions for the animals.
HUMANELY RAISED & HANDLED
This term is not approved by the USDA and the USDA does not have a set of standards for certifying products as “humanely raised.” This claim is only used when a producer is making their own independent claim and then a third-party approved by the USDA can verify the producers particular claim. This can be false or deceptive advertising that has no meaning for animal welfare.
Source: American Welfare Institute AWI | www.awionline.org
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos via Photopin.com