By Ezra Klein
If you were told an animal was “naturally raised,” what would you imagine that meant? Is it evidence that they wandered a field? Felt the touch of sunlight? Ate their normal diet? Well, no. At least, that’s not what it means if you see “naturally raised” on a package of meat. The USDA released their guidelines for the marketing term this week. Grass, sunlight, and open space don’t enter into it. Rather, animals are “naturally raised” if they “have been raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control), and have never been fed animal by-products.”
Got that? No growth promotants or antibiotics — except, of course, for ionophores used as coccidiostats — or eating the ground-up remains of other animals. That’s what counts as a natural upbringing in our food production system. We have not medically accelerated your growth nor made you into an inadvertent cannibal nor crammed you into such unhealthful conditions that you needed to be pumped full of antibiotics to stay alive.
The problem with this label is not specifically how the animals are raised. Excising antibiotics and growth promotants from their diet is a good thing. The problem is what the USDA’s new guidelines say about, well, the USDA. These guidelines are a simple act of collusion with the marketing teams in the livestock industry. When a consumer sees “naturally raised,” they almost certainly don’t say to themselves, “Terrific! This chicken was raised entirely without growth promotants, antibiotics (except for ionophores used as coccidiostats for parasite control), and has never been fed animal by-products!” The implication of “naturally raised” is that the chicken lived the natural life of a chicken, not the life of a widget. But USDA has defined it as living the life of a widget, just not a particularly heavily medicated widget. And why have naturally raised” at all? The shrinkwrap enclosing a chicken breast has room for “No growth hormones or antibiotics!” They’re using “naturally raised” because it’s more efficiently misleading to consumers who want to do good by eating well, and the USDA is just gave its seal of approval to the practice.
See the Ethicureans for more.