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    USDA Establishes Standard for 'Naturally Raised' Marketing Claim

    Consumer groups charge the new "last-minute" standards are misleading and fall short of consumer expectations.

    The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture has finally signed off on voluntary standards for naturally raised livestock and meat marketing claims, although not all consumer groups are cheering.

    The new voluntary standards for naturally raised marketing claims mean that the livestock from which those meats and meat products have been derived were raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control) and animal byproducts. The voluntary standard establishes the minimum requirements for producers that choose to operate a USDA-verified program involving a "naturally raised" claim.

    "Naturally raised," often used as a marketing tool to attract consumers concerned about animal welfare, has up until now not had an official definition.

    Some consumer groups remain concerned, however, that the "naturally raised" standards aren't stringent enough and also still allow for animals raised in CAFO's (Confined Animal Feeding Operations) still to be tagged "natural."

    Consumers Union (CU) and Food and Water Watch (FWW), which also charge that the new standards sanction un-natural practices, characterized the voluntary natural labeling standards as "last-minute regulation...[that were] misleading and fell short of consumer expectations." The announcement came days before the change in federal government administrations in Washington.

    "This regulation will allow an animal that has come from a cloned or genetically engineered stock, was physically altered, raised in confinement without ever seeing the light of day or green of pasture, in poor hygiene conditions with a diet laced in pesticides to be labeled as 'naturally raised,'" said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, CU's senior scientist and policy analyst. "This falls significantly short of consumer expectations and only adds to the roster of misleading label claims approved by USDA for so-called natural meat."

    Patty Lovera, FWW's assistant director, further derided the "last-minute rules" for "naturally raised" meat labels, which "practically invite agribusiness to 'greenwash' their products and rip off consumers. Until these standards are revised, consumers will have to navigate another set of misleading labels at the grocery store."

    USDA said it received more that 44,000 comments about the rule, while CU and FWW amassed more than 36,000 signatures in support of the position that the USDA's proposed standards for "naturally raised" were flawed, would only confuse consumers and should be withdrawn.

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