Perdue Farms LLC’s petition to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service was submitted eight months ago but continues to generate comments about whether separate “free range” and “pasture-raised” claims for meat and poultry products should be in the rulebook.

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

The Food Safety and Inspection Service is considering the petition under the federal Administrative Procedure Act.  The review. It is being conducted by the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development, where it was assigned petition number 23-03.

FMI,  The Food Industry Association, representing retailers, wholesalers, and product suppliers, is the latest to weigh in with comments.

“We strongly recommend that the agency embark on an open and transparent process to engage all stakeholders if changes to policy are contemplated,” FMI comments.

The association has requested a formal notice and comment process with a comprehensive review of options, including the agency’s “current thinking.”

“It is also important that FSIS engage with FDA regarding labeling policies as well as consider other USDA agencies and other FSIS regulations and policies related to labeling changes (Meat Inspection Act and Egg Products Inspection Act.),” FMI added. “Changes to labeling policies should be evaluated with a comprehensive evaluation of all factors beyond the words on the labels. Considerations include but are not limited to existing and emerging production practices; economics of production, products, and labels; exclusions or limitations of policy changes and impact on the industry and most importantly, evaluation and impact of any changes to consumers.”

FMI also said,” USDA should approach rulemaking to understand the scientific consensus around the appropriate definitions of these terms as agreed upon by experts such as veterinarians, animal behaviorists, and food safety professionals.”

FMI’s comments were received on Nov. 16.   Vital Farms and Warmuth Farm commented earlier in the month.

It’s evident that while Perdue’s goal to clarify consumer confusion is praiseworthy, the method proposed risks compromising the core values of what “pasture-raised” represents, Mike Dunn with Warmth Farm wrote.

He urged FSIS “to carefully assess this petition on, strengthen pasture-raised standards,” with concern for the welfare of the animals and upholding the integrity of pasture-raised farming, and to ensure transparency for consumers.

Wormuth Farm is located in Sussex County, NJ.

Vital Farms asked FSIS to deny the Perdue petition to define separate terms “pasture‐raised” and “free range.” 

Though the FDA regulates the products produced by Vital Farms, Vital Farms is concerned about the impact this petition will have on industries regulated by the FDA and, therefore, is interested in this issue. There are four primary reasons for our opposition.”

Those four, as cited by Vital Farms, area:

1. Amending the requirements to make a “pasture‐raised” claim will put unnecessary regulatory burden on American family farms. 

2. There is more than one way to pasture‐raise chickens ethically on a commercial scale.

3. The cost of compliance with the proposed policy changes is unreasonable and, in some cases, anti‐competitive.

4. “Pasture‐raised” is a claim made by producers of both USDA and FDA-regulated products.

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