USDA: Sideline this Guideline

After a painful election and increasing cries that the media can no longer be trusted, the issues on everyone’s mind right now are truth and transparency. Despite this, the Food Safety and Inspection Service, a department within the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is attempting to push through a Guideline that will further deceive consumers and obscure the reality of conditions that farmed animals endure in the United States. Talk about a giant step backwards.

The agency has published a proposed guideline for labeling meat as “humane.” The Guideline, “FSIS-2016-0021: Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submission,” is open for public comment through December 5. It’s already received significant pushback from concerned consumers and animal protection groups.

Over the last two decades, American consumers have become increasingly concerned about the way their food is produced. Packaging with buzzwords like “cage free” and “humane” and even “antibiotic free” have become standard in not only specialty grocery stores like Whole Foods, but even traditional ones. State ballot initiatives protecting farm animals are also annual events now. This year, Massachusetts voted overwhelmingly to ban the intensive confinement of animals used in pork, veal, and egg production.


Despite this, farmed animals handling hasn’t improved on a whole. The farmed animals used for meat live in extreme and prolonged confinement and overcrowding, and their bodies are routinely mutilated without pain medication (including castration, debeaking, and dehorning).

For more information about consumers and the treatment of farmed animals, read “Beware: Ag-gag is a Big Drag – For Everyone.”

This latest trick has the same goal as ag-gag laws (laws intended to hide the cruelty of standard agricultural practices for farmed animals), it’s just a different tool. For years, the agricultural industry has misled, confused, or outright deceived consumers by advertising their products as humane or using pictures of happy animals on bucolic farms on their packaging. Now the government wants to give this deception their seal of approval.

Though the FSIS uses the word “guideline” to describe this labeling, there are no actual standards or requirements. It’s a free-for-all where meat companies can declare that the animals slaughtered in their factories were raised and killed humanely no matter how the animals were actually treated as long it meets their own company’s “humane” standard.  And even if there were guidelines, FSIS will not inspect or make any attempt to verify companies’ claims.

It’s frightening to imagine what will happen. Consumer protection groups are already battling companies in court to force them to remove completely provable claims like whether a food contains a particular additive or chemical. And animal protection standards are obviously much more nebulous than verifying the presence of a chemical. It will be a long, painful uphill battle.

For All Animals submitted a comment on the regulation this morning, strongly urging the USDA to reject this dangerous proposal. We have a right to know how our food is produced. Please join us in standing up for farmed animals.

Liz CircleElizabeth ‘Liz’ Holtz is For All Animals’ director of legislative affairs. She is an animal rights attorney and lifelong animal advocate. Liz manages For All Animals’ coalition efforts to pass state laws that protect animals—like strengthening anti-cruelty laws—and defeating laws that harm animals—like ag-gag laws. She also oversees For All Animals’ Attorney at Paw program, which provides assistance to advocates interested in passing laws and ordinances that protect animals on a local level.