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USDA Archives - Greener Choices

Posts Tagged ‘USDA’

Fixing the “Natural” Label

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What's wrong with "natural"?

Media Coverage

"Natural" In the News

Widespread media coverage of our efforts to ban the "natural" label or define it in a meaningful way is raising awareness among consumers, and putting pressure on government agencies to take action.

Consumers Taking Action

What You Can Do

If you're looking for foods grown without the use of most synthetic pesticides, no GMOs, no antibiotics and limited artificial ingredients, leave foods labeled "natural" on the shelf and look for foods with the USDA Certified Organic label instead. 

Media Coverage

"Natural" In the News

Widespread media coverage of our efforts to ban the "natural" label or define it in a meaningful way is raising awareness among consumers, and putting pressure on government agencies to take action.

June 24, 2014

Citizen Petitions

In June 2014, we submitted citizen petitions to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Food and Drug Administration, asking the agencies to ban the "natural" label on the foods they regulate.

 

May 10, 2016

Our comment to the FDA

Consumer Surveys

Routine Drug Use in Livestock and Poultry

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Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center has prepared a guide to third-party certification labels commonly found on meat and poultry products. Labels have several advantages: publicly available standards, independent verification, and meaningful requirements for animal welfare that go beyond industry norms (e.g. prohibiting gestation crates, increasing living space requirements). In this way, meaningful, certified labels provide the highest level of assurance for consumers.

The Center’s guide highlights the policies of third-party labels regarding routine uses of all antibiotics, including those important in human medicine as well as animal antibiotics like ionophores, and other drugs like beta-agonists and hormones. We also review their animal welfare and farm management standards. You can use this detailed guide to make more informed decisions about the health, safety and sustainability of the meat and poultry you buy, and help move the marketplace in a better direction.

 

 

Antibiotic use in organic chicken hatcheries

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Improving the Organic Label

Prohibiting Antibiotics in Hatcheries

Federal law prohibits the use of antibiotics in organic farming, with one exception: chickens until the second day of life can be given antibiotics. We believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture should prohibit the use of all antibiotics in organic production, including day-old chicks, and we're working to make this happen.

Consumer Survey

What Consumers Think

According to our 2015 survey, 60% of consumers think that the organic label means antibiotics were never used. An even greater percentage think that the organic label should mean this: 72% responded that antibiotics should never be used, and 79% responded that antibiotics should only be used to treat sick animals.

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Taking Action

Our Advocacy Work on Antibiotics in Organics

We wrote to the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2014 requesting that the agency prohibit administering antibiotics to chicks that will be raised as "organic."  In June 2015, we wrote a detailed letter to the Secretary of Agriculture to request that the agency take action. The Secretary of Agriculture responded in August 2015 that the agency will request a recommendation on this issue from the National Organic Standards Board.

Know Your Labels

What You Can Do

When buying poultry, look for the "USDA Organic" seal along with a "raised without antibiotics" claim. Producers making a "raised without antibiotics" or similar claim are prohibited from using antibiotics at any stage of life, including day-old chicks.

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Antibiotics

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Antibiotic use in livestock farming

Why it matters

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Consumer Reports Testing

Testing meat and poultry

Over the years, we've tested chicken, turkey, beef, pork and shrimp for bacteria that can make you sick. Our tests show that bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics are commonly found on meat and poultry found at your grocery store. We have also found that the way meat is produced has an impact on the prevalence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Here, I'd like an accordion with links to the different stories with our test results.

Labels

Labels: What do they mean for antibiotic use?

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Taking Action

USDA Response to CR Letter

We do not believe the current action taken to recall Foster Farms’ contaminated chicken goes far enough to protect the public’s health. We are calling on the government and the company to do more by widening the dates of the recall to the beginning of...

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Aurora Certified Organic

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How Meaningful is this label

Meaningful

Is the label verified?

Yes

Is the meaning of the label consistent?

No

Are the label standards publicly available?

Yes

Is information about the organization publicly available?

Yes

Is the organization free from conflict of interest?

Yes

Was the label developed with broad public and industry input?

Yes

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What This Label Means

100% ORGANIC: Highly meaningful. The organic label is highly meaningful for foods that are labeled as "100% organic." These foods were produced in accordance with the organic standards and were processed without synthetic materials.

ORGANIC on produce: Highly meaningful. We also consider the organic label to be highly meaningful for unprocessed plant-based foods, such as fruits and vegetables. These are rarely labeled “100% organic” but simply “organic,” but would not contain synthetic or non-organic ingredients. The organic standards are highly meaningful for crop growers, who are prohibited from using nearly all synthetic pesticides, as well as all synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics (which continue to be approved for use in conventional fruit orchards), genetically engineered seed, sewage sludge and irradiation.

ORGANIC on meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods: Meaningful*. The standards are meaningful for promoting sustainable agriculture practices and eliminating toxic synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other synthetic inputs. Given the concerns with standards and oversight over the last few years, CR no longer rates “organic” on meat, dairy, eggs and processed foods as highly meaningful but as meaningful.

The organic standards only address animal welfare in minimal ways, which is why we rate the “organic” label on animal products as meaningful and not highly meaningful. The USDA should implement National Organic Standards Board recommendations on animal welfare. We also have concerns about enforcement of the requirements to grant outdoor access, especially for organic poultry. The organic label also does not address fair trade practices or conditions for farmworkers (“fair trade”) or proximity of production to point of sale (“local”). For additional value, consumers should look for the organic label in combination with a meaningful or highly meaningful animal welfare label,** and a meaningful or highly meaningful fair trade label.***

*Note: see “Inconsistencies for antibiotic use” section below

**Note: meaningful and highly meaningful animal welfare labels include: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Steps 3-5+.

***Note: meaningful and highly meaningful fair trade labels include: Fair for Life, Food Justice Certified, Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade.

For processed foods, our 2014 consumer survey shows that an overwhelming majority of consumers think that the organic label should mean no artificial materials were used during processing (91%) and that the product contains no artificial ingredients (89%). The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) permits the addition of artificial ingredients if they are approved and appear on the National List, and materials should only be added to the National List, for a five year period, if they meet certain criteria, including that they should be considered “necessary to the production and handling of the product because of the unavailability of wholly natural substitute products.”

However, organic processed foods, including organic infant formula, containing artificial and non-organic ingredients that have not been approved for use in organic foods now appear on store shelves. We have filed a complaint with the USDA regarding unapproved ingredients in organic baby food, but the USDA has not taken enforcement action.

Moreover, we consider many of the artificial and non-organic ingredients that have been approved for use in organic foods to be not essential. Some are added to recreate texture, color or flavor. Other non-organic ingredients have been approved even when concerns have been raised regarding their potential negative impacts on human health (e.g., carrageenan).

"MADE WITH ORGANIC [SPECIFIED INGREDIENTS]": Somewhat meaningful. A product with the “made with organic” label contains at least 70% agricultural ingredients that were produced in accordance with the organic standards, which promote sustainable agriculture practices, including the elimination of toxic synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and other synthetic inputs. The remaining 30% non-organic ingredients can be produced with the use of synthetic inputs (e.g., crops with synthetic pesticides and synthetic fertilizers), drugs (e.g., meat with antibiotics and artificial growth hormones) and chemical processing aids (e.g., synthetic solvents for oil extraction). The remaining 30% cannot be genetically engineered, irradiated, or produced with sewage sludge. The “made with organic” label is therefore less meaningful than the “organic” label, but still rated “somewhat meaningful.”

The USDA Organic program has a meaningful framework for accountability. In setting and improving the federal organic standards, there is a transparent rulemaking process that includes public comment. In enforcing the standards, any citizen can file a complaint with the USDA and request an investigation.

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Is This Label Verified?

Yes.

Farms and food processing facilities are inspected by a third-party certification agency. Inspections are not conducted by the USDA; rather, the USDA accredits certifying agencies to certify to the USDA organic standards.

Organic standards require annual inspections of farms and processing facilities, and random inspections are possible. Farmers and food processors are also required to submit an updated organic production or handling system plan to the certifying agency annually.

The standards also require random testing for pesticide residues or environmental contaminants. Each certifying agency is required to test samples from at least 5% of the operations it certifies on an annual basis.

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Is The Meaning Of This Label Consistent?

No.

Any product with the USDA Organic seal must meet the USDA standards for food and agricultural products. On food, the “organic” and “made with organic” labels, even without the USDA Organic seal, are consistent in meaning. Products other than food can be labeled “organic” even if they do not necessarily meet the organic standards. Products with the USDA Organic seal must meet all the requirements in the standards. Foods can be labeled “organic” (without the use of the USDA Organic seal) only if they meet all the requirements in the standards, but this does not apply to non-food products such as textiles, personal care products and mattresses.

Recent Inconsistencies Unresolved

Inconsistencies for poultry and eggs: The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the USDA regulations explicitly prohibit continuous total confinement of organic animals, and require that year-round access to the outdoors be granted. However, the USDA has failed to enforce this standard for poultry, and continues to allow a number of industrial-scale producers who have built covered porches as “outdoor access,” inaccessible to the majority of the birds, to label their poultry products “organic.”

Inconsistencies for personal care and cosmetics: Personal care products can display the USDA Organic seal if they meet all the requirements in the federal organic regulations for food. However, unlike foods, non-food products can claim to be “organic” without being certified to the USDA organic standards, without facing enforcement action from the USDA. For non-food products, consumers should look specifically for the USDA Organic seal.

Inconsistencies for antibiotic use: There is a legal allowance for use of antibiotics in poultry hatcheries, where antibiotics can be administered in the egg and on the first day of the chicks’ life.

Inconsistencies for artificial ingredient approval: While artificial ingredients were supposed to be approved for a five-year period and then “sunset,” there have been a number of cases where these ingredients have been relisted or their use extended well beyond five years, even when human or environmental concerns have been raised.

Recent Inconsistencies Resolved

Access to pasture for ruminants: For ruminants (dairy cows, beef cattle, bison, goats, sheep), the standards were revised in 2010 to clarify that the animals must graze on pasture during the grazing season.

Antibiotic use in apple and pear production: When the organic standards were first developed, antibiotics were prohibited except in day-old poultry chicks and apple and pear orchards. The NOSB voted in 2013 and 2014 to prohibit the use of the antibiotics tetracycline and streptomycin in organic orchards. This prohibition took effect in October 2014.

Organic labeling of fish: There are no organic standards for fish or other seafood at this time. Even if raised to international organic standards, fish should not be labeled as “organic” when sold in the U.S. We continue to find seafood in U.S. stores labeled as “organic.”

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Are the label standards publicly available?

Yes.

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Is information about the organization publicly available?

Yes.

The organic standards are federal regulations of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The USDA is a federal executive department. Information about the department’s leadership and financial information is publicly available at www.usda.gov.

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Is the organization free from conflict of interest?

Yes.
Standards development: Yes. Officials at the United States Department of Agriculture involved in writing and updating the organic standards are subject to the government’s conflict of interest rules.

Members of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a civilian, multi-stakeholder group, advise the USDA on organic standards but do not have final decision making authority and are prohibited from voting on matters in which they have a financial interest.

Verification: Yes. The organic standards require that accredited certifying agencies prevent conflicts of interest in several ways, including not certifying an operation if the certifying agent has a financial interest in the operation.

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Was the label developed with broad public and industry input??

Yes.****

Standards development: The organic standards are federal regulations, which are required by law to be shared with the public and opened for public comment before they are finalized and adopted. Before the organic standards were adopted in 2002, the public had multiple opportunities for public comment. The final standards addressed many of the concerns that had been raised by public comment.

Standards updates: Updates to the standards are typically reviewed and recommended by the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), a 15-member expert citizen panel that meets biannually to vote on recommendations. These meetings are open to the public, and citizens have the opportunity to comment both in writing before the meeting and in person during the meeting. The NOSB sends its recommendations to the National Organic Program of the United States Department of Agriculture, which again shares a draft of any proposed changes to the organic standards with the public, and accepts written public comments.

****Note: There have been instances where the USDA has initiated policy changes (such as materials review) which have not gone through public notice and rulemaking--which have been opposed by several groups including CR.

This label is on Beef

LABEL CATEGORY

Organic Social Responsibility Not Genetically Modified (non-GMO)Sustainable Agriculture Animal Welfare Low Contaminant Levels

The organic standards only address animal welfare in minimal ways, which is why we rate the “organic” label on animal products as meaningful and not highly meaningful. The USDA should implement National Organic Standards Board recommendations on animal welfare. We also have concerns about enforcement of the requirements to grant outdoor access, especially for organic poultry. The organic label also does not address fair trade practices or conditions for farmworkers (“fair trade”) or proximity of production to point of sale (“local”). For additional value, consumers should look for the organic label in combination with a meaningful or highly meaningful animal welfare label,** and a meaningful or highly meaningful fair trade label.

Details

 

  1. Given concerns with standards and oversight over the last few years, CR no longer rates "organic" as highly meaningful but meaningful. However "100% Organic" is still Highly Meaningful, while "Made with Organic [Specified Ingredient]" is only somewhat meaningful.
  2. Inconsistencies exist for poultry and eggs, personal care and cosmetics as well as inconsistencies for antibiotic use and artificial ingredient approval.
  3. There have been instances where the USDA has initiated policy changes (such as materials review) which have not gone through public notice and rulemaking--which have been opposed by several groups including CR.

 

*Note: see “Inconsistencies for antibiotic use” section below

**Note: meaningful and highly meaningful animal welfare labels include: Animal Welfare Approved, Certified Humane and Global Animal Partnership (GAP) Steps 3-5+.

***Note: meaningful and highly meaningful fair trade labels include: Fair for Life, Food Justice Certified, Fair Trade Certified and Fairtrade.

100% Organic

Foods can carry the “100% Organic” label if all ingredients are certified organic and were not processed with any synthetic materials.

Made With Organic

At least 95% of the ingredients in a processed food labeled “organic” must be grown on a certified organic farm.

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Up to 5% of the product can consist of non-organic agricultural materials or artificial ingredients that have been approved for a 5-year period. These materials are supposed to be approved only when they are deemed essential to organic production, compatible with the principles of organic agriculture, and raise no concerns regarding their impact on human health and the environment. The organic regulations specify that synthetic and other non-organic substances should not be approved for use in organic foods if their primary use is as a preservative or to recreate or improve flavors, colors, textures, or nutritive value lost during processing. However, many ingredients whose primary purpose is to recreate textures, colors or flavors have been approved and appear in certified organic processed foods

Made With Organic

A product claiming “Made with Organic [specified ingredients]”, means that, at least 70% of the ingredients are certified organic.

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The remaining 30% of ingredients can come from conventional farms, which means they can be produced with synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, antibiotics, artificial growth hormones, chemical processing aids and other inputs that are prohibited on organic farms and processing facilities. The 30% conventional ingredients cannot, however, be genetically engineered, produced with sewage sludge, or irradiated.

Poultry & Eggs

The Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and USDA regulations explicitly prohibit continuous total confinement of animals. It requires that year-round access to the outdoors be granted. However, the USDA has failed to enforce this standard for poultry, and continues to allow a number of industrial-scale producers who have built covered porches (inaccessible majority of the birds) as “outdoor access,” to label their poultry products “organic.”

Personal Care & Cosmetics

Personal care products can display the USDA Organic seal if they meet all the requirements in the federal organic regulations for food. However, unlike foods, non-food products can claim to be “organic” without being certified to the USDA organic standards, without facing enforcement action from the USDA. For non-food products, consumers should look specifically for the USDA Organic seal.

Antibiotic Use

There is a legal allowance for use of antibiotics in poultry hatcheries, where antibiotics can be administered in the egg and on the first day of the chicks’ life.

Artificial Ingredient Approval

While artificial ingredients were supposed to be approved for a five-year period and then “sunset,” there have been a number of cases where these ingredients have been relisted or their use extended well beyond five years, even when human or environmental concerns have been raised.

Access to

Pasture for Ruminants

For ruminants (dairy cows, beef cattle, bison, goats, sheep), the standards were revised in 2010 to clarify that the animals must graze on pasture during the grazing season.

Antibiotic Use in

Apple & Pear Production

While artificial ingredients were supposed to be approved for a five-year period and then “sunset,” there have been a number of cases where these ingredients have been relisted or their use extended well beyond five years, even when human or environmental concerns have been raised.

Organic labeling

Of Fish

There are no organic standards for fish or other seafood at this time. Even if raised to international organic standards, fish should not be labeled as “organic” when sold in the U.S. We continue to find seafood in U.S. stores labeled as “organic.”

Program Name

USDA Organic

Organization

www.demeter-usa.org

Label Standards

Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR 205)

Beef Report

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Full Report

Beef Report

In addition to being a popular food, beef can also be contaminated with bacteria that can make you sick. We tested beef for bacteria and antibiotic resistance, and found significant differences between conventionally produced beef and beef that was more sustainably produced (with no antibiotics, certified organic and/or grass-fed). In our report, we share our test results, discuss the intersection between sustainable beef production practices and food safety, and tell you which labels to look for when shopping for more sustainably produced beef.

Labels

What Do Labels on Beef Really Mean?

Are you looking to buy beef from farms with high standards for animal welfare and environmental stewardship, but you're not sure where to begin? Labels can tell you the story behind the food, and we have reviewed the requirements behind the labels you're likely to see. Our labels chart will help you find out what labels really mean, so you can make informed decisions when shopping for beef.