(January, 26, 2021, Washington, D.C.) Today, a coalition of animal welfare, consumer, public health, and environmental organizations called on grocery stores, restaurants and meat producers to reject the use of a misleading label scheme known as One Health CertifiedTM (OHC) and the standards behind it. The label was approved for use on chicken and turkey products in 2020 and is now being used by a handful of grocery store chains, including Aldi and BJ’s, and at least one restaurant chain. Consumer Reports recently assigned the OHC label its second poorest rating because the standards behind the label essentially reflect current problematic industry practices related to antibiotic use, animal production, and environmental impact.
“The OHC label is a thinly veiled greenwashing and humanewashing scheme devised by the nation’s sixth largest poultry producer, Mountaire Farms,” said Andrew deCoriolis, executive director of Farm Forward. “It misleads consumers at the precise moment they’re seeking safer, healthier, and more humane products amidst a global pandemic by capitalizing on the legitimacy of the World Health Organization’s highly respected One Health framework. OHC standards merely enshrine the standard practices of factory farming.”
The standards claim to protect medically important antibiotics from overuse. But in fact are weaker than and out of line with the responsible antibiotic use practices published by the World Health Organization in its 2017 guidelines and with the U.S. chicken industry’s own norms. (According to industry research, over 90% of the U.S. chicken industry no longer relies on the routine use of antibiotics deemed medically important by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration [FDA]).
OHC standards allow the use of medically important drugs for the highly problematic aim of disease prevention, including in hatcheries under a variety of circumstances, instead of reserving these drugs solely to treat sick animals or control disease outbreaks. The OHC standards have no guardrails on overall use of medically important antibiotics, completely lack mechanisms to remove noncompliant producers from the program, and provide no incentives for producers to address underlying causes of disease.
In December 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration released its annual report on sales of medically important antibiotics for use in food producing animals. The 2019 data reveal that sales rose for the second straight year, a troubling trend. Overall sales of medically important drugs were 11% higher in 2019 than in 2017. This hefty increase underscores the need for meaningful standards that drive down use of antibiotics in food animal production.
“Antibiotic resistance is one of the greatest threats to public health today and overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture is one of the driving forces behind this crisis,” said Laura Rogers, deputy director for the Antibiotic Resistance Action Center, Milken Institute School of Public Health, the George Washington University. “Genuinely responsible use of antibiotics needs to be addressed in conjunction with improved animal health and welfare practices to decrease disease risks and minimize the need for antibiotics in the first place.”
In addition, the OHC standards fail to set their own animal welfare requirements, instead accepting external standards that merely reflect conventional industry practices—none of which would qualify under the Better Chicken Commitment, which is recognized by animal welfare organizations across the country as a minimum standard for broiler chicken welfare.
“The OHC standards are an insult to the collaborative ‘One Health’ framework they borrow their name from, capitalizing on consumers’ concern and compassion while maintaining the cruel status quo on farms,” said Daisy Freund, vice president of farm animal welfare at the ASPCA. “This industry-led marketing label is weak to the point of being meaningless on animal welfare standards, lacking environmental enrichment, breed health, and meaningful limits on stocking density.”
The OHC standards also fail to go beyond the status quo when it comes to environmental protection. While requiring producers to submit data measuring carbon footprint, the program lacks requirements to reduce environmental impact or monitor for environmental hazards, including antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance determinants. Producers must simply meet local and federal laws regarding waste disposal and nutrient management plans. Stamping a seemingly legitimate seal of approval on a product for basic legal compliance misleads consumers into perceiving such products to be cleaner and greener.
“Consumers look to food labels as trusted sources of information,” said Lena Brook, Director of Food Campaigns with NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). “By rubber stamping problematic livestock industry practices under the guise of ‘health,’ the OHC label compromises that trust. Given the urgency of the antibiotic resistance crisis, eaters are looking for real action to curtail antibiotic overuse in meat production, not more greenwashing.”
The OHC label gives the impression that the certification program was created and endorsed by the USDA, though this is demonstrably false. “In truth, the OHC label is not a USDA-led or sponsored program and is not endorsed by the agency,” said Michael Hansen, Senior Scientist at Consumer Reports. “The USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service merely acts as a third-party verifier of scores of marketing label programs like this one, a service that is available to any applicant.”
The 13 organizations that collaborated on this press release are at the forefront of a large coalition of groups representing public health, consumer and environmental protection, and animal health and welfare. The organizations are American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Antibiotic Resistance Action Center at the George Washington University, Center for a Livable Future at the Johns Hopkins University, Center for Food Safety, Compassion in World Farming, Consumer Reports, Farm Forward, Food Animal Concerns Trust, Humane Society International, Humane Society of the United States, Natural Resources Defense Council, U.S. PIRG and World Animal Protection.
Read the detailed Critique of the OHC label and a Multi-Sector Consensus Statement on a true approach to One Health, along with a growing list of signatories.
Read an op-ed published in Food Safety News that underscores the weaknesses of the OHC label: Consumer Reports: ‘One Health Certified’ label is meaningless, misleading.
Read a statement on the One Health Certified label by the Antibiotics Off the Menu coalition.
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