On January 16, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began allowing agricultural companies to slap a “naturally raised” label on meat and meat products from animals whose upbringing may well be far from natural. In response, Farm Sanctuary, a nonprofit that combats the abuses of factory farming, has launched a petition demanding a more literal interpretation of the phrase. The USDA label, the organization argues, "misleads the public and exploits consumer trust in advertising and packaging claims and in government regulation of agriculture." The petition states:
We believe that "naturally raised" implies animals have access to sunshine, fresh air, freedom of movement and the ability to perform natural behaviors. Allowing meat and meat products from animals raised in intensive confinement to be marketed as "naturally raised" is false and misleading and defies the public's understanding of the term. We urge the USDA to reconsider this recent decision.
The Consumer Reports offshoot GreenerChoices agrees that the agency’s “naturally raised” sticker is bull. "This regulation will allow an animal that has come from a cloned or genetically engineered stock, was physically altered, raised in confinement without ever seeing the light of day or green of pasture, in poor hygiene conditions with a diet laced in pesticides to be labeled as 'naturally raised,'" said Dr. Urvashi Rangan, director of GreenerChoices. "This falls significantly short of consumer expectations and only adds to the roster of misleading label claims approved by the USDA for so-called natural meat."
The Animal Welfare Institute offers its own certification, the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) program, which is adhered to by farmers such as Lee Menius. The Winston-Salem Journal recently ran an excellent article describing Menius's methods, comparing AWA with various other programs recognizing farmers and food producers who use humane practices to raise livestock.
The centerpiece of AWA's standards has to do with confinement, or the lack of it. AWA insists that animals be raised outdoors in pastures, not in crowded feedlots, cages or crates.
The program has separate standards for different animals, but all of them cover everything from the genetics of the breeds, to the nutrition, weaning, pasture management and slaughter.
Beef cattle standards, for example, prohibit tail docking (cutting off the end of the tail), cloned or genetically engineered animals and growth hormones. Calves must have access to high-quality forage from the age of seven days. Cattle must have continuous access to outside pastures. Pesticides and herbicides are not allowed on cattle grazing areas.
If you want to get thoroughly bummed out about the inhumane corporate meat industry, watch Farm Sanctuary's Life Behind Bars: The Sad Truth About Factory Farming.
Debra is the lead singer/guitarist for Devi, “a ferocious guitar-driven power trio equally adept at sprawling psychedelic jams and terse, haunting three-minute rockers." (Lucid Culture)