The petition Perdue Farms Inc. filed with USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) March 16 is still generating comments. The petition was assigned to the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development.

Perdue said FSIS’s conflation of the definition of “free range” and “pasture-raised” has caused industry-wide confusion and has led to false and misleading interpretations of “pasture-raised.” Perdue proposed different policy language to clarify these animal-raising claims.

The Perdue petition requests that FSIS conduct rule-making to define separate “free range” and “pasture-raised” claims for meat and poultry products. The petition also requests that FSIS update its guidance on claims related to living/raising conditions to ensure that the claims align with consumer expectations.

Perdue’s specific suggested edits: for “Living- or Raising- Conditions Claims” call for “added information on the use of ‘Free Range’ and synonymous claims (‘Free Roaming,’ ‘Pasture Fed,’ ‘Pasture Grown,’ ‘Pasture Raised,’ and ‘Meadow Raised’) on labels of poultry products and the documentation needed to substantiate these claims.” 

The Perdue petition also proposes that FSIS require “pasture-raised” to mean the following: Chickens spend at least the majority percentage of their lives physically on “pasture” “Pasture” to be defined as a majority rooted-in-soil vegetative cover.

Kestrel Burcham recently submitted new comments on the petition for Wisconsin’s Cornucopia Institute.

“Labeling claims are confusing and misleading to consumers, especially when the same terms are being used for a wide range of practices,” Burcham wrote. “Third-party labels deepen this confusion, but the foundation is a lack of clarity in federal labeling regulations. Consumers, retailers, and farmers understand that ‘free range’ and ‘pasture-raised’ refer to different production practices despite the confusion. 

“Unfortunately, federal labeling policy does not mesh with the common understanding of these terms. In Cornucopia’s experience of stakeholder feedback, consumers believe that ‘pasture-raised’ production chickens spend most of their lives with outdoor access that includes quality vegetation. Consumers expect this outdoor access to be meaningful in giving the birds opportunities to forage, rather than just having access to the outdoors,” the policy director continued.

“Cornucopia supports the Perdue Petition regarding FSIS’s “Pasture Raised” claims, according to the comments. “Cornucopia concurs that FSIS should amend its interpretation of ‘free range’ raised chicken as defined in its current guideline document to remove ‘pasture-raised’ from the list of claims synonymous with ‘free range.’ “

Cornucopia also agrees that “pasture-raised” should be separately and specifically defined and supports Perdue’s suggested definition as it meshes with consumer and retailer understandings of the term.

Perdue asked that FSIS amend its 2019 compliance guideline to remove “pasture-raised” as a claim synonymous with “free range” and that “pasture-raised” be defined as a chicken that spends at least a majority of its life on a majority rooted-in-soil vegetative cover pasture. 

Also, consumers and industry actors perceive “pasture-raised” and “free range” as separate classifications, with the former as a more premium claim. This will avoid false and misleading marketing of “free range” chickens with only access to the outdoors and “pasture-raised” chickens that physically spend their life on a pasture.

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