FSIS Issues Update to Guideline Regarding Animal-Raising Claims

October 19, 2016

By Riëtte van Laack

A couple of weeks ago, the Food Safety Inspection Service of the USDA (FSIS) announced the availability of an updated compliance guideline regarding animal-raising claims. The previous guideline dated from 2002.

Traditionally, the FSIS has interpreted the Federal Meat Inspection Act (“FMIA”) and Poultry Products Inspection Act (“PPIA”) to require that labels for federally inspected meat and poultry products be approved before the meat and poultry products are marketed, except when the label is generically approved. Labels with animal-raising claims are not eligible for generic label review and must be submitted to FSIS. Examples of claims include: “Raised Without Antibiotics,” “Organic,” “Grass-Fed,” “Free-Range,” “Raised without the use of hormones.” FSIS allows such claims only if the company submits documentation to support the claim(s). Moreover, FSIS determines whether a claim will be false or misleading. For example, since under U.S. law, chickens may not be treated with hormones, FSIS will not approve a claim “no hormones administered” unless the claim includes the statement: “Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in poultry.”

Depending on the claim, the documentation needed to support the animal-raising claim generally includes:

  • A detailed written description explaining the controls used for ensuring that the raising claim is valid from birth to harvest or the period of raising being referenced by the claim;
  • A signed and dated document describing how the animals are raised (e.g., vegetarian-fed, raised without antibiotics, grass-fed) to support that the specific claim made is truthful and not misleading;
  • A written description of the product-tracing and segregation mechanism from time of slaughter or further processing through packaging and wholesale or retail distribution;
  • A written description for the identification, control, and segregation of non-conforming animals or products; and
  • A current copy of the certificate if the claim is certified by a third party, e.g., organic certification or non-GMO verified project.

The updated guideline provides a number of examples of animal-raising claims and the documentation required for the sample claims. It also addresses what, if any, documentation is required when an establishment wants to “duplicate” animal-raising claims from purchased products/ingredients incorporated into the establishment’s product.

FSIS issued the updated guideline in response to questions it received about animal-raising claims. Much of the information likely already was available in some other format such as on askFSIS, and in policy statements. Although comments may be submitted until December 5, 2016, FSIS advises establishments that wish to use animal-raising claims to use the guideline immediately.