USDA To Examine the Validity of Misrepresented "Antibiotic-Free" Labeling

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Food Safety News reported that the USDA has recently responded to a letter from Consumers Union (CU) regarding the validity of meat company claims such as “antibiotic-free.” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack stated that the agency would look into claims of unapproved and unclear meat labeling. Specific labeling definitions included:

  • antibiotic-free

  • no antibiotic growth promotants

  • no antibiotic residue

  • According to a letter written from CU:

    We have long urged USDA to take steps to formally establish a meaningful, transparent and clear standard behind the “no antibiotics used” label claims. In 2002, the USDA unsuccessfully attempted to define “no antibiotics used” and never completed the process. In February 2009, Consumers Union reiterated our concerns about the lack of a formal definition to Secretary Vilsack. Specifically, we urge the USDA to formally define the claim as meaning no antibiotics and no ionophores were used for the lifetime of the animal.

    These terms can be confusing to consumers that may be looking to completely avoid any antibiotics used in their food. Like the term “no antibiotic residues.”

    Food Safety News reports:

    For example, the claim "no antibiotic residues" may not mean that the animals were raised without antibiotics. In fact, the animals could have received antibiotics for much of their life, but then been taken off the drugs before slaughter - as is often required by law for animals destined for human consumption - so that there is no, or very little, remaining residue in the meat.

    The USDA was quick to respond to CU’s letter, addressing concerns in a letter from Secretary Vilsack.

    "Under FSIS guidelines, when producers/companies request to make the marketing claim "raised without antibiotics" on their labels, we inform them that this means "no antibiotics in their feed water or injection including no ionophores" during the animal's life," said Vilsack.

    The letter went on to ask CU to send them copies of the labels so that FSIS could investigate the validity of the claims directly.

    With awareness comes labeling, which is a good thing. But labeling opens the door to false labeling in a similar way that organic opened the door for natural and other worthless claims. Even still, I'm glad to see the issue surfacing.

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    Tags: Antibiotics | Food Safety