The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) is launching a project to reassess supplier claims of antibiotic-free raised meat.

USDA, the country’s farming regulator, said the exercise is part of a re-evaluation of ‘animal-raising claims’ and how they are backed up with evidence after receiving feedback from a “wide range of stakeholders”.

“Several” petitions have been filed with the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), the USDA’s meat-safety and compliance body, asking for the reassessment of the agency’s oversight, including confirming the accuracy of claims around raised without antibiotics and antibiotic-free.

“FSIS, in partnership with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS), will be conducting a sampling project to assess antibiotic residues in cattle destined for the ‘raised without antibiotics’ market,” the regulator said in a statement.

“The results of this project will help inform whether FSIS should require that laboratory testing results be submitted for the raised without antibiotics claim or start a new verification sampling programme.”

USDA added the broader initiative is part of the department’s efforts to protect consumers from “false and misleading labels”.

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Tom Vilsack, the US agriculture secretary, said: “Consumers should be able to trust that the label claims they see on products bearing the USDA mark of inspection are truthful and accurate.

“USDA is taking action today to ensure the integrity of animal-raising claims and level the playing field for producers who are truthfully using these claims, which we know consumers value and rely on to guide their meat and poultry purchasing decisions.”

Simultaneously, the FSIS plans to issue revised guidelines recommending that suppliers “strengthen the documentation” submitted to the agency to back up their animal-raising claims, ideally using third-party certification.

“Together, these actions will be used to guide potential rulemaking on animal-raising claims,” the USDA added.

Other animal-raising claims overseen by the FSIS include organic, grass-fed and hormone-free. The claims have to be supported by evidence-based documentation describing the rearing process and tracing, from slaughter to processing, and distribution into retailers.

In the case of raised without antibiotics, “animals cannot be administered antibiotics in their feed, water or by injections at any point in the production process”, the FSIS said in its 2019 guidelines.