Perdue Farms petitions USDA to separately define poultry label claims

The company wants separate definitions for free range and pasture raised
calendar icon 4 April 2023
clock icon 2 minute read

This month, Perdue Farms submitted a petition to the USDA’s Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) to modify the definition of “free-range” poultry and to separately define “pasture-raised” poultry, in an effort to resolve consumer confusion between the two terms.

Through this petition, Perdue requested that the federal agency:

  • Amend labelling compliance regulations under the Poultry Products Inspection Act to remove “pasture-raised” from “free-range” synonymous language.
  • Separately and clearly define “pasture-raised” claims for meat and poultry products to include that pasture-raised chickens spend the majority of their lives physically on “pasture,” meaning a majority of rooted-in-soil vegetative ground cover.
  • Update its guidance on claims related to living and raising conditions of poultry to ensure that the claims align with consumer expectations, so that consumers are not deceived or otherwise misled by the advertising claim.

“It’s important for consumers to have access to information on poultry packages that clearly align with their understanding of the raising practices in which they are keenly interested, without any confusion," said Mark McKay, president of Perdue Premium Poultry and Meats. "Unlike USDA Organic practices, pasture-raised poultry is not yet clearly defined by FSIS."

"According to input from consumers, the terms ‘free range’ and ‘pasture raised’ are not synonymous, but current FSIS labeling rules mandate that they are interchangeable," he continued. "As a fourth-generation, family-owned food and agriculture company and the number one brand of fresh chicken in the US, we believe that the claims and information that we share about our products and company should be transparent and unambiguous. We look forward to FSIS’s thoughtful consideration."

Currently the FSIS defines free-range chicken farming practices as continuous, free access to the outside throughout their normal growing cycle. The outside area for “free range" is allowed to be a varied environment, that might include grasses, dirt, shrubs, or trees. By contrast, consumers overwhelmingly understand “pasture raised” to mean raised on pasture, which they believe to mean that the ground is covered mostly with grasses and other plants. In addition, they expect that “pasture-raised” chickens will spend the majority of their lives physically in that pasture area.

Findings from a September 2021 Consumer Perception Survey and Report indicate that consumers would be better served if “pasture raised” and “free range” had separate definitions to delineate the differences. The report demonstrates that, of consumers who purchase and have an opinion about the meaning of “pasture raised” chicken, 89.8% of the respondents indicated that they believed the term “pasture raised” communicates or implies that chickens are guaranteed to spend at least some their lives raised on pasture, while 69.4% of those same respondents indicated that they believe “pasture raised” chickens are guaranteed to spend the majority of their lives raised on pasture.

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