Food In-Depth & Farm Forward find antibiotics in “antibiotics-free” meat.
Farm Forward cites much else wrong with the American Humane Certified, One Health Certified, & Global Animal Partnership labels
SAN MATEO, California; PORTLAND, Oregon––The food testing company Food In-Depth and Farm Forward, a self-described nonprofit “team of strategists, campaigners, and thought leaders,” in the first week of April 2022 issued separate studies indicating that “antibiotics-free” claims by retailers, in the words of Food In-Depth, “lack integrity.”
The real bottom line, though, appears to be that consumers appear to have little reason to trust any of the labeling schemes supposed to certify that meat and other animal products and byproducts come from animals who have been “humanely” raised and slaughtered.
Little reason for confidence in certification claims
Explained Food In-Depth, in a media release publicizing findings appearing in the April 7, 2022 edition of the peer-reviewed journal Science, “The USDA approves meat labels with claims such as ‘No Antibiotics Ever’, ‘No Added Antibiotics’ and ‘Raised without Antibiotics’, but how confident can shoppers be that they are, in fact, getting what they paid for?
“Not very,” according to findings by a team including Lance B. Price, founder and co-director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University; Laura Rogers, deputy director of the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at George Washington University; and Kevin Lo, founder and executive director of Food In-Depth.
Urinalysis tells the tale
“The team obtained urine samples from beef cattle being slaughtered for the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ marketplace,” the Food In-Depth media release detailed.
“They tested nearly 700 cattle from 312 lots and 33 different ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ certified feedyards. They found that 42% of feedyards had at least one animal test positive. Lots with at least one positive test represented approximately 15 percent of the ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ cattle processed during the study period.
“The findings suggest,” Food In-Depth concluded, “that today’s ‘Raised without Antibiotics’ labels lack integrity.”
Who monitors the monitors?
Whether animals are raised without the use of antibiotics is, as Food In-Depth demonstrated, relatively easy to determine through sampling and testing.
To ensure that animals are humanely treated in other respects, many farmed animal product certification schemes rely upon third-party monitoring.
But who monitors the monitors?
Who verifies the accuracy of judgement calls?
And how do consumers know which certification schemes are most credible?
“Sophisticated testing can reveal the truth about prohibited drugs fed to animals on factory farms, but these tests cannot reveal the extent to which these animals have suffered,” Farm Forward executive director Andrew deCoriolis told media.
“Our test results should give consumers pause”
“Whole Foods and GAP say that their products are humane and hope we’ll take their word for it,” deCorilis continued, “but our test results should give consumers pause.”
Antibiotics use in factory farming is a major issue for public health worldwide, contributing to the development of antibiotic-resistant strains of disease-carrying bacteria and the loss of effectiveness of many antibiotics in human health applications.
For that reason, the European Union has since the beginning of 2022 prohibited the use of antibiotics in farmed animals except for treatment of specific individuals for specific conditions.
The antibiotics issue, however, is only a small part of the Farm Forward critique of farmed animal product certification schemes, amplified since mid-2021, about six months after Farm Forward ended ten years of participation in the Global Animal Partnership certification program begun by Whole Foods Markets founder John Mackey.
What consumers think
Farm Forward in December 2021 quietly published Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers, subtitled a “Survey of Consumer Beliefs about Welfare Certifications.”
Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers may have been meant to create a stir among purchasers of meat for Christmas tables, but mostly did not, perhaps in part because supermarkets remain among the biggest advertisers in mainstream local news media.
Explained Farm Forward, “We commissioned a survey of 1,219 American adults through YouGov,“ an online polling agency, “collecting data on consumer expectations and beliefs about both independent and industry certifications on several welfare issues.”
Among the welfare issues were “access to pasture, genetic modification of animals, [and] the use of physical mutilations,” Farm Forward clarified.
“Humanewashing is as successful as it is cynical”
“Our findings confirm,” Farm Forward said, “that the humanewashing tactics employed by retailers and meat, dairy, and egg producers through the use of certifications are as successful as they are cynical.”
The YouGov marketing research company produced an online survey of 1,219 representative U.S. adults for Farm Forward in September 2021.
“We asked participants a series of questions about three certifications, Global Animal Partnership, American Humane Certified, and One Health Certified, as well as the label claims ‘antibiotic-free’ and ‘cage-free,’” Farm Forward detailed, “to ascertain their expectations for products bearing these labels, as well as their beliefs about what these labels actually mean.
“Americans are largely unable to distinguish meaningful certifications”
“We found,” Farm Forward summarized, “that Americans are largely unable to distinguish meaningful certifications from those that exist solely to obfuscate factory farming practices.”
“Across the board,” Farm Forward said, “all certifications in our survey fell short of consumers’ beliefs about and expectations for them.
“Further,” Farm Forward emphasized, “those who regularly seek humanely raised meat are the most susceptible to the effects of this deception.”
Millions invested in fooling customers
Farm Forward introduced Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers by observing that “Over the past 30 years—from 1990 to 2020—global consumption of meat has doubled and is projected to continue rising. Since 99% of animals raised for human consumption in the United States are raised on factory farms, the increase in meat production and consumption has implications for the welfare of billions of animals.
“In response to this increase,” Farm Forward charged, “rather than investing in improved equipment and significantly better welfare practices, the meat industry has invested millions of dollars in an effort to give its existing practices a veneer of credibility in the eyes of consumers and regulators.
“A wide array of confusing—and often misleading— certifications and labels now appear on product packaging nationwide,” Farm Forward observed, before zeroing in on the specific alleged defects in the American Humane Certified, One Health Certified, and Global Animal Partnership labeling programs.
American Humane Certified “largely fails to improve conditions”
Farm Forward dismissed American Humane Certified as “is a third party-audited animal welfare certification scheme that claims to be the largest in the world, overseeing the welfare of about 1 billion animals.”
The American Humane Certified standards, however, “largely fail to improve conditions beyond industry conventions,” Farm Forward observed.
“Practices condoned by American Humane Certified include crate confinement for gestating and nursing sows, permanent indoor confinement, and dehorning of cows,” Farm Forward explained.
“To become certified, farms are only required to meet 85% of the standards—leaving consumers in the dark about whether the most important and basic welfare standards have been met. Because of this exceptionally low bar, Farm Forward groups American Humane Certified with other agriculture industry-created certifications as a certification ‘controlled by industry interest.’”
One Health Certified combines “greenwashing, healthwashing, & humanewashing”
One Health Certified, Farm Forward assessed, “represents the next generation of these industry-controlled certifications, combining greenwashing, healthwashing, and humanewashing through an apparently holistic program.”
The One Health Certified name evokes association with the global One Health Initiative, introduced in 2006 to further scientific, medical, and veterinary recognition of the continuity of health issues from animals to humans and vice versa.
But One Health Certified has nothing whatever to do with the One Health Initiative, and indeed in many ways might been seen as defending practices that are almost exactly opposite to those that the One Health Initiative tries to further, including less agricultural use of antibiotics.
One Health Certified “is the brainchild of major poultry producer Mountaire Farms, which has held the OHC trademark since 2017,” Farm Forward explained.
Mountaire Farms’ alleged disregard of worker health––and thereby, of public health––was the subject of a July 13, 2020 exposé by New Yorker “Reporter at Large” Jane Mayer, entitled “How Trump Is Helping Tycoons Exploit the Pandemic.”
Explained the subhead, “The secretive titan behind one of America’s largest poultry companies, who is also one of the President’s top donors, is ruthlessly leveraging the coronavirus crisis—and his vast fortune—to strip workers of protections.”
Mayer went on to detail how “Trump has weakened federal oversight of the [poultry] industry while accepting millions of dollars in political donations from some of its most powerful figures, including Ronald Cameron, Mountaire’s reclusive owner. In 2016, Cameron gave nearly three million dollars to organizations supporting Trump’s candidacy.”
The Trump administration left office in January 2021, but the damage it did to occupational health and safety standards in slaughterhouses continues.
Global Animal Partnership credibility gap
“Unlike with American Humane Certified and One Health Certified, Farm Forward saw promise in the independent Global Animal Partnership certification and its progressive tiered rating system, even serving on the Global Animal Partnership board for over a decade,” Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers acknowledged.
“But since our resignation in protest in 2020,” Farm Forward added, “we have critiqued the [Global Animal Partnership] certification for catering to industry at the expense of animal welfare.
“In particular,” Farm Forward said, “we have noted that most farms remain at the bottom rungs, Steps 1 and 2, of the program,” which fail to ensure outdoor access to animals, allow for genetic modification of birds for rapid growth, and allow “for mutilations like debeaking of birds and burning off calves’ horn tissue.”
All of this is exactly as critics, including ANIMALS 24-7, predicted when the Global Animal Partnership was introduced in 2010.
“Out of touch with consumer expectations”
“In 2018,” Farm Forward continued, “Global Animal Partnership approved a generic label that lacks a specific Step number, which allows producers to obscure the Step level to which their products are certified. We hypothesized that due in part to Whole Foods’ bucolic marketing imagery, shoppers have come to equate these generic-labeled products with the best Global Animal Partnership has to offer, Steps 5 and 5+, despite the fact that these products are extremely difficult to find. Many Whole Foods stores don’t carry any Step 5 or 5+ poultry products.
“A core conclusion of the [YouGov]survey,” Humanewashing’s Effect on Consumers said, “is that the improvements to animal welfare indicated by certifications—particularly Global Animal Partnership, One Health Certified, and American Humane Certified—are out of touch with consumer expectations and values surrounding animal welfare.
“The vast majority of American consumers are victims”
“On measures like whether animals are raised on pasture, whether animals are genetically modified for rapid growth, physical mutilations, and more, Americans want higher welfare standards on farms and overestimate how much these certifications ensure.”
The bottom line, Farm Forward found, is that “The vast majority of American consumers,” as well as the animals they eat, “are victims of humanewashing: deceptive marketing tactics used by meat producers and retailers to mislead shoppers about animal welfare, often in order to charge premium prices.”