AWI Accuses USDA of Conning Consumers18 May 2012
US - The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) requested a USDA Inspector General audit of the USDA Process Verified Program, which certifies some products as "humanely raised". According to the institute, the products come from animals suffering on conventional, industrial farming operations.
AWI's request for an audit of the Process Verified Program is based on Humanewashed, its investigative report on the Process Verified labeling scheme. The report exposes the use by conventional producers of the Process Verified label to imply that the USDA has certified their use of "humane" animal raising practices, even though there is no federal definition of the term "humane."
According to the AWI, companies decide independently what to call "humane," and the USDA merely verifies that the company follows its own arbitrary standards. Under such a scheme, a company need not make any actual concessions to animal welfare, yet still receive the USDA "Process Verified" seal for welfare claims and sell this to consumers, AWI said.
The AWI report focuses on claims made by Perdue Farms and Sparboe Farms, poultry companies whose animal care standards maximize productivity and sacrifice the birds' ability to express their natural behaviors as a result of intensive indoor confinement. Americans were shocked last fall when an investigation of Sparboe uncovered the company's deplorable animal welfare practices.
Certain large retailers stopped purchasing Sparboe eggs following the investigation, and the FDA cited the company for thirteen serious violations of food safety laws. AWI has learned that these violations were found during FDA audits of Sparboe facilities that occurred within days of PVP audits in which USDA auditors recorded no problems, it claims.
"The American people rely on the federal government to verify the truth and accuracy of the labels on their food," AWI president Cathy Liss said in requesting a review of the program. "The Process Verified Program betrays the public's trust by putting a USDA 'humane' certification on products from animals raised in a manner that no reasonable consumer would consider humane."
Ms Liss added: "Consumers of chicken, beef, pork and eggs cannot easily verify how the animals used to produce these products were treated, and for most, labels are the only source of information about how the animals were raised. The Process Verified Program allows companies to exploit consumers by duping them into believing that animals were treated humanely when in reality they were suffering on factory farms."