Let the Sun Shine On Meat Labeling

In the Bush Administration's final days, USDA rushed forward a Naturally-Raised Label Claim Standard. The Center for Rural Affairs has pushed USDA for years to create standards for meat marketed under a variety of labels such as grass-fed, hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and pasture-based in order to enhance marketing opportunities for family livestock producers that can meet those claims.
The last-minute Naturally-Raised standard would undermine producers' work to establish these markets by diminishing consumer confidence.  Consumers expect that a "naturally raised" label would cover what animals are fed and the environment in which they were raised.  No such standards are included in the Bush Administration's label.  Once consumers learn of the deceptive standard, they will lose confidence in the label, and question the integrity of other USDA labels.
Fortunately, the problems with this USDA label claim standard can still be addressed.  The Obama White House issued a memo, allowing for recent regulatory actions by the previous administration that have not taken effect to be extended and reviewed.  
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack should extend the rule's effective date, open another public comment period, and withdraw this labeling standard.  In its place, he should direct the Ag Marketing Service (AMS) to develop revised standards for meat from livestock raised without antibiotics, without added hormones, and for pasture-based livestock.  These three label standards were under development by AMS until the process was sidetracked by the dark-of-night rulemaking in January.  USDA label claims should provide "sunshine" for consumers and producers, not deceptive darkness and confusion.

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