One of my favorite sources for food politics info, The Ethicurean (Chew the Right Thing) has a great opportunity for us all to do something in the wake of the Scary Meat Sitch in this country. Or, to clarify, we can complain to the USDA about proposed meat labelling that will make it even harder to figure out the backstory on meat in the stores. The USDA's proposing creating a new labelling requirement for 'naturally raised' meat that requires said meat to be free of hormones and antibiotics. So far, so good, right? Well, that meat can come from animals who have had zero access to grass, the outdoors, zero natural insemination, zero regulation of whether or not said livestock operations are polluting the air and water with animal waste (intersex fish ring a bell?), and zero attention paid to whether or not the animals were raised humanely. Remind anyone else of the watered-down organics labelling that infuriated so many small farmers?
Here's the thing -- to have an opportunity to register your comment, you have to do it by Monday, March 3! Check out the Ethicurean's post to hear their full take, or just click through to the commenting section below. I have included my response and Ethicurean's talking points below.
Here's the link to give the USDA your comments.
MamaBird's comment: "I completely agree with the Ethicurean talking points (see below) and am outraged that the USDA would want to further obscure meat labeling. I would love to be able to buy my meat in a regular grocery store instead of travelling to pick up meat from a farm, but I can't currently tell from labels which producers are using the methods I support in meat production. I'm not a vegetarian, by the way, just a concerned mother who wants to have quality meat for her kids. Meat that's been grass-fed, meat that is from animals who have had access to pasture, who haven't been horribly overcrowded or fed antibiotics or homones (that are polluting our waterways!), meat from NON-downer animals. Please don't make it any harder for me to buy meat that's safe for my family and good for the environment."
Ethicurean 'naturally raised' meat commentary info:
Important: All comments must reference "Docket No. AMS-LS-07-0131".
Also: Be sure to include your name, address, and if appropriate, affiliation(s) and/or interest(s) in the issue.
Remember: The public comment deadline is March 3, 2008.
- The proposed "naturally raised" standard fails to address many of the high standards consumers expect from sustainable livestock production, including animal welfare, access to pasture, and conservation and environmental requirements. Quite simply, the "naturally raised" label as proposed would not mean what consumers would think it implies and should be abandoned.
- With its less than comprehensive definition of "naturally raised" and seemingly similar relationship to other labels, the proposed label would confuse consumers. It could also undermine the consumer confidence in all other label claims, including the well-established and trusted "certified organic" label which numerous producers have built their respective businesses around.
- The naturally raised label claim would completely defeat a very important purpose of providing the label in the first place – to provide clear and reliable signals to consumers who want to make informed, environmentally-friendly, and healthy choices about their food purchases.
- The implementation of a "naturally raised" claim would further mislead consumers who are already uncertain and skeptical about the meaning of the "natural" label claim currently overseen by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS). The natural claim refers to processing of meat whereas the naturally raised claim refers to the production of livestock. The implementation of two distinct claims, both using the term "natural" yet addressing completely distinct issues and administered by two separate agencies will create confusion for consumers and farmers alike.
- Hormone and antibiotic supplementation and the use of animal byproducts as a feed source are extremely important issues that could be succinctly and accurately addressed through individual labeling claim standards. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service had previously proposed the development of "no antibiotics used" and "no supplemental hormones used" labels, both of which would provide clear and reliable signals to consumers. This approach would provide consumers with clear, reliable signals that will allow them the opportunity to make informed decisions about what they are purchasing, while sustaining their confidence in the integrity of all USDA process-verified labels.
**Also, I promise that I will post about something other than horrifying food issues some day soon!