A petition was submitted on behalf of Perdue Farms LLC earlier this month, requesting rulemaking by USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) to define separate “free range” and “pasture-raised” claims for meat and poultry products. It is the third such petition submitted to FSIS this year.

The petition also requests that the FSIS update its guidance on claims related to living/raising conditions to ensure that the claims align with consumer expectations.

The FSIS is considering Perdue’s petition for rulemaking under the Administrative Procedure Act, USDA’s administrative regulations, and FSIS’ regulations on petitions. It has been referred to the Office of Policy and Program Development for review and has been assigned petition number 23-03.

The cover letter for the petition says: “Perdue respectfully requests that USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) promulgate labeling regulations under the Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) that remove ‘pasture-raised’ from claims considered synonymous with ‘free range’ and further amends its current” It further says that Compliance Guidelines such as “pasture-raised” should be separately and precisely defined.

The Perdue petition was submitted by Herb Frerichs, general counsel for Perdue Farms Inc.

The petition says: “The Food Safety and Inspection Service (“FSIS”) is charged with developing and implementing regulations that require labels of meat and poultry products to be truthful and not misleading. See 21 U.S.C. 601(d); 21 U.S.C. 457(c).

“Accordingly, FSIS has the responsibility and obligation to ensure consumers are not deceived or otherwise confused by ‘raising claims’ on poultry product labels. Specifically, any label with a “raising claim” must resubmit to FSIS for prior approval.

“FSIS then verifies the accuracy of the ‘raising claim’ by reviewing supporting documentation submitted with the label approval application. 

“The advertising claims of ‘free range’ and ‘pasture-raised’ are NOT synonymous. According to the FSIS, for a ‘free range’ poultry claim, a manufacturer must describe the housing conditions and “demonstrate continuous, free access to the outside throughout their normal growing cycle. However, ‘free range’ does not require chickens to spend any time on actual pasture. The outside area for ‘free range’ is allowed to be a varied environment, that might include dirt, shrubs, or trees.”

The petition further says that: “FSIS’s definition of ‘free range’ does not require any time on pasture. And ‘outside’ does not meet consumers’ understanding of pasture. Consumers understand ‘pasture’ to mean that the ground is covered mostly with grass and other plants.”

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