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Organic association suggests Perdue Farms’ petition needs some work

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Perdue Farms LLC petitioned the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) in March of 2023 requesting that the service conduct a rulemaking process to define separate “free range” and “pasture-raised” claims for meat and poultry products. 

In the more than a year since it was submitted, the Perdue Farms petition has received more comments than any other, most favoring the petition’s adoption.

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. It is pending in the FSIS Office of Policy and Program Development.

The latest to weigh in is the Organic Trade Association (OTA) with comments asking FSIS for more work before it acts on the Perdue Farms petition.

“OTA believes there exists a need for greater clarity and consistency in industry use and understanding by the consumer of the terms free-range and pasture-raised,” the group says in recently filed comments. “From our long history of advocating for continuous improvement of organic standards, OTA understands the importance of clear and consistent standards and the challenges a market faces in their insufficiency or absence.

“For many years, OTA and the organic sector requested more explicit standards regarding animal welfare to ensure the USDA organic seal represented consumer expectations of how organic meat, dairy, and eggs are produced. We applauded the USDA’s Organic Livestock Production Standards final rule, published late last year, which codifies and makes consistent many of the practices already in place across the organic livestock sector, giving organic consumers further confidence that their understanding of what is represented by the seal is truly reflected on the farm.

“In moving forward in its consideration of the petition, OTA encourages FSIS work across USDA programs to ensure regulatory consistency and reference definitions already in place, as well as ensure any definitions be inclusive of production practices across species and industry segments (broilers, layers, dairy cattle, beef cattle, etc.),” it adds. “Such collaboration will ensure existing consumer expectations and understanding are upheld. Specifically, we point to the long-established definition of pasture in the USDA organic regulations at 7 CFR Part 205.2, and the pasture practice standard at 7 CFR Part 205.240.”

The OTA comment letter finishes up with:

“As noted, organic consumers have an existing expectation regarding access to pasture and what this means for animal welfare. This expectation and confidence is rooted in the third-party organic certification process, a verification central to USDA organic regulations. Just as organic claims are backed by transparent auditing of production facilities, FSIS should work across USDA programs to back any definitions and claims with a similar auditing scheme to ensure consumers get what they pay for.”

“Finally, we recommend FSIS allow and facilitate a broader opportunity for all interested producers and consumers to comment on this petition. We believe an advanced notice of proposed rule-making to be a proven mechanism to facilitate this dialog. When FSIS undertakes this or any other rule-making, OTA looks forward to engaging with our members to inform this process further.”

Comments filed during 2024 on the Perdue Farms petition include Leaping Bear Farm, Primal Pastures, Walden Local Inc., A Greener World,  Shady Grove Ranch, and five members of Congress,   

Last year’s 2023 commenters included Organic Valley, The Food Industry Association, Vital Farms, Warmth Farms, The Cornucopia Institute, Joe’s Farm, the American Grass-fed Association, Farm Forward, the American Pastured Poultry Producers Association, Compassion in World Farming United Egg Association, and the Animal Welfare Institute.

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