The Totally Meaningless Food Label You Don’t Want To Fall For

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Photo: Getty Images/Claudia Totir
Food-labeling in the United States has a long history of being convoluted and misleading. Even though nutrition labels themselves received a long-overdue makeover in 2020, a host of other labels don't always tell the full, honest story of where your meal is coming from. New findings from Consumer Reports found that the label "One Health Certified" (which is supposed to act as animal welfare seal of approval) is 100 percent meaningless.

First deployed in February 2020 and administered by the National Institute of Antimicrobial Resistance Research and Education (NIAMRRE), the One Health Certified label served as the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) attempt to offer universal guidelines for animal protein in the United States. At its core, the OHC label established production practices to address the most concerning health threats in the agricultural industry today: disease prevention, veterinary care, responsible antibiotic use, animal welfare, and environmental impact. The problem, explain Brian Ronhold and Charlotte Vallaeys of Consumer Reports, is that the production standards in these five buckets are egregiously low and mostly comply with the current way meat and poultry are raised, treated, and packaged within the United States.

Take, for example, the guideline on "responsible animal care" that can earn a turkey breast or a flank steak this label. "[To] meet animal welfare standards for OHC, producers are allowed to use minimal trade association guidelines that essentially represent the norm in poultry production," write Vallaeys and Ronhold. "For chickens, the indoor space requirement is less than one square foot per bird, and there is no requirement for access to the outdoors. There also is no requirement to equip indoor living spaces with features that allow chickens to engage in natural behaviors. Even basic allowances such as controlling indoor ammonia levels produced by animal waste is not required."

"Even basic allowances such as controlling indoor ammonia levels produced by animal waste is not required." —Brian Ronhold and Charlotte Vallaeys

The environmental standards associated with the label, meanwhile, requires meat and poultry producers to conduct a life cycle assessment that measures the carbon footprint of its production practices but offers no timeline or requirements on how to reduce that footprint. Stated plainly, the label is a prime example of the "health washing" that so-often targets consumers who are trying to live more wellness-oriented, ecologically-fueled lives—so feel free to call BS next time you spot it at the supermarket.

There is good news for meat-eaters, however: Some labels you see on animal products at the grocery store can acutally help you make healthier, more sustainable choices when buying your proteins. "Grass-fed," "Global Animal Partnership," "Certified Humane," and "Animal Welfare Approved" are all labels to keep your eyes peeled for when you're jonesing for a roast chicken or ground beef to make meatballs.

"Food companies should refrain from affixing the One Health Certified label on their products since it largely reflects current industry practices and is misleading," write Ronhold and Vallayes. "If consumers encounter this label at the store, they should be aware that it only means that a company used their normal operations to process food-producing animals and decided to reward themselves with a sticker."

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