10 August 2016

RESEARCH - 'Natural' 'Humane' Food Labels Create Confusion

A recent survey by Lake Research Partners shows that even though 77% of American consumers are concerned about the welfare of farm animals, there is significant confusion about how to make ethical purchases and what existing labelling means.

28% of consumers who are not paying attention to labels relating to welfare standards just don’t know what to look for. And even among those consumers who are paying attention, confusion about what the labels mean is a big problem.

For example, “free range” does not mean that the labeled product comes from an animal that spent most, or even much, of its time in a pasture.

There is no legal definition of “free range” for pork, beef, or dairy, and while there is a legal definition for poultry, it is far from what the label seems to indicate. In order to be labeled “free range,” it is only necessary for the birds to have had access to the outdoors, regardless of the size of that space, or how long they were allowed out.

Similarly, “humane” has no legal definition and producers can use it regardless of their farming practices, and “natural” only refers to how the meat is handled after slaughter.
This is a big problem both for consumers who want to support humane farming practices, and for producers who are holding themselves to higher standards.

75% of consumers in the survey also said they want independent inspectors and qualified third parties to ensure that the labels on products mean what they seem to imply.

This is an important take-away for stores and brands, and one way that producers who are aiming for higher standards can ensure that consumers are able to find and trust their products.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) defines ‘natural’ as “nothing artificial or synthetic,” such as color additives, has been added to a food that would not normally be expected to contain it. But that definition is over two decades old.

With a variety of class action suits accusing companies of misleading consumers by labeling foods containing artificial, synthetic or genetically modified ingredients as “all natural,” petitions from citizens and a number of federal court judges have called upon the FDA to update their definition.

As a result, the FDA collected comments on the use of this term in the labeling of human food products and are currently compiling the data.

Some certifications are currently available, such as the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA), Certified Humane (CH), or Global Animal Partnership (GAP) certifications. These organizations do provide the kind of independent inspection that consumers are starting to demand.

The Canadian Federation of Humane Societies has adopted the “Five Freedoms,” a concept originating in, and still used by, the UK government. But despite this, and the research that supports standards based on the Five Freedoms, there is still a lack of comprehensive, independent oversight in any of these jurisdictions.

As one way to address this issue the American SPCA has launched Shop With Your Heart, a resource guide that hopes to help consumers learn about farm animal welfare, understand existing labeling, find products that have a higher welfare standard, and even resources to help consumers request that supermarkets carry a wider variety of welfare-certified products.

By Tiffany Sostar
Tiffany is a writer, editor, academic, and animal lover who came late to her appreciation of pets. At 18, a rescue pup named Tasha saved her from a depression and she hasn't looked back. She has worked as the canine behaviour program coordinator for the Calgary Humane Society, and was a dog trainer specializing in working with fearful and reactive dogs for many years. She doesn't have any pets right now, but makes up for it by giving her petsitting clients (and any dogs she comes across on her frequent coffee shop adventures) extra snuggles.

No comments:

Post a Comment