Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Truthful Labeling Coalition

I received a letter from a gentleman associated with a group called the "Truthful Labeling Coalition" (TLC).

Here's their site:

The subject is poultry labeling, specifically, the truth behind the current labels, "100% Natural", and "Raised Without Antibiotics."

Who they are:
The TLC claims to be "a group of poultry producers and thousands of activists concerned about the health and safety issues associated with improper labeling on chicken sold in supermarkets across the country."

What they say about "natural":
"Unfortunately, a number of poultry producers that have been labeling their products "100% All Natural" are in fact pumping up their products with additives - sea salt, broth or seaweed extract, to name a few - none of which is naturally occurring in chicken."

What they say about antibiotics:
"We believe that the "Raised Without Antibiotics" label should be reserved for those brands of chickens that don’t use any compounds the USDA classifies as antibiotics."

What they are doing about it:
"On April 2, a coalition of poultry producers [went] to federal court to stop the chicken companies that use this misleading and possibly illegal claim on their products. And we’re working in DC to make sure Congress is aware of this issue.

Hm, one group of chicken companies vs. another. Still, nothing on the surface here seems anti-consumer. What consumer doesn't want a label on a chicken stating it's "100% Natural" and "Raised Without Antibiotics" to be telling the truth?

From what I can tell, the TLC works out of Washington, DC, and lobbies Congress on behalf of their members. In December of last year, Perdue Farms (the nation's third largest poultry producer), joined their group, a group that already claimed Foster Farms, Gold'n Plump Poultry, and Sanderson Farms (the nation's third largest poultry processor) as members.

The CEO of TLC-related Foster Farms said:
"Both Foster Farms and Perdue share an unwavering tradition of producing high quality, natural fresh chicken and we welcome their support in the campaign for truthful labeling."
- Truthful Labeling Coalition Welcomes Perdue Farms, PR Newswire, December 2007
Perdue? "High quality, natural fresh chicken?" Well, if you say so.

The president of TLC-related Sanderson Farms said:
"We're delighted to have Perdue join the Truthful Labeling Coalition. Their help in our effort to encourage USDA to put consumers first when making labeling decisions will be vital and we welcome it."
- Truthful Labeling Coalition Welcomes Perdue Farms, PR Newswire, December 2007
If large industrial chicken farms want the USDA to make a change that "puts consumers first", I can think of a few more pressing problems that could be addressed other than labeling. Something doesn't fit here.

The author of the PR Newswire piece also said:
"Like with the "100% all natural" claim, the coalition is firmly against adding any type of qualifying or conditional language around the "raised with no antibiotics" claim as busy consumers don't have time to read complicated fine print."
The CEO of Gold'n Plump Poultry said:
"Our research has repeatedly shown that qualifying and conditional language only adds clutter and complexity to fresh chicken labels rather than clarity."
Why would a group who lobbies for truthful labeling prefer to subtract information from a label, rather than add to it? I appreciate these poultry farmers' preference for simplicity. However, if the TLC adheres to the motto "An Educated Consumer Is Our Best Customer" (and you would think they do, given their high-profile campaign to educate the consumer), they may want to consider that an educated consumer is capable of reading a label.

I contacted the Center for Science in the Public Interest and they defended the legitimacy of the group. Still, with such heavy business backing, I doubt they're operating with the purely humanitarian goal of making sure Americans "feed their families only natural chicken". The TLC sounds more to me like a group of poultry producers who is using the USDA, via their definitions of "natural" and "raised without antibiotics" to help them sell more birds: "Mine is more natural than yours!"

Parke, at his US Food Policy blog, discussed the TLC a few weeks ago and concluded:
"... it is difficult to tar one's opponents without having some of the feathers stick to one's own skin, so to speak."
Photo of grilled beer can chicken from, Derrick's Barbecues & Grilling Blog.

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