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'Naturally Raised' Meat Claim Will Confuse Shoppers: OTA

GREENFIELD, Mass. -- In comments submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) this week, the Organic Trade Association (OTA) suggested to the agency that its proposed voluntary standard for a "naturally raised" marketing claim for livestock products would only further confuse consumers.

"This proposed voluntary standard, if adopted, is bound to add to consumer confusion,” said Caren Wilcox, OTA's executive director. “Consumers already do not understand ‘natural’ claims on products, and this proposal will only further muddy the waters on what such claims mean. The organic label, meanwhile, covers both how animals are raised and how meat is processed and all organic animal products sold in the U.S. must meet or exceed U.S. organic standards."

Under the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) definition, only minimally processed meat and poultry products containing no artificial ingredients or added colors may be labeled “'natural.” The FSIS definition includes no requirements for the way the animal is raised. The proposal in question, offered by the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), would allow a “naturally raised” claim on livestock products if the animals were raised without growth promoters and antibiotics and had never been fed mammalian or avian by-products.

However, the AMS proposal does not address living conditions or feed requirements. OTA pointed out that consumers will be further baffled by meat labels, further contending that having two contradictory definitions means a “natural” meat product could have been raised under “unnatural” conditions and could have been fed hormones, antibiotics and meat by-products.

Likewise, a “naturally raised” meat product might contain artificial flavors or colors. In contrast to the organic label, neither “natural” nor the proposed “naturally raised” claims would require third-party verification of those claims. The organic label on meat products, on the other hand, refers to how the animals were grown and processed.

"Why create another label that will further confound consumers when there already is a very clear regulated organic label that brings an assurance that the products have been produced and processed using specific practices?" Wilcox added.

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