WASHINGTON, Sept. 30, 2016 – USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service has issued guidance to make sure that the “Grass Fed” label on beef means what it says – that “Grass Fed” or “100% Grass Fed” claims may only be applied to meat labels derived from cattle that were only fed grass after being weaned from their mother’s milk.
FSIS acted after the department’s Agricultural Marketing Service earlier this year withdrew its oversight of the well-recognized standard, claiming that FSIS was actually the agency with the legal standing to oversee the label claim. AMS had overseen the voluntary label program for grassfed livestock products for nearly a decade. Following AMS’ revocation of the standard, a number of agricultural and consumer organizations, including the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC), urged FSIS to adopt the rescinded AMS standard.
NSAC Policy Director Ferd Hoefner welcomed the new FSIS guidance. “Taking this action was necessary to preserve the label’s strong reputation,” he said in a blog posting. “We applaud FSIS’ swift response to producer and consumer concerns following AMS’ withdrawal of the standard earlier this year.”
The guidance states that meat bearing the Grass Fed label must come from animals whose diet is “derived solely from forage” and that “animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season until slaughter. “
Hoefner noted that the latter requirement was not part of the original AMS standard, but he said it was “certainly a valuable addition.”
While generally pleased with the guidance, Hoefner said it needs to be improved. He said it allows FSIS to approve lesser label claims, such as “75% Grass Fed” or “80% Grass Fed,” which he said were misleading to consumers and harmful to farmers and ranchers who have built their reputations on the 100 percent Grass Fed standard.
“USDA needs the legal authority to not only enforce strong, pro-farmer, pro-consumer standards, but also to reject misleading claims,” he said. “We will continue to support FSIS in upholding a strong 100 percent Grass Fed label claim standard, while also advocating for an improved process that does not leave the door open for misleading, lesser claims.”
Only a small percentage of the cattle raised in the U.S. qualify as grass-fed, producing what proponents say is leaner and healthier meat. Most cattle in the U.S. are finished in feedlots with a mostly grain diet. Grass-fed production is the norm in most of the rest of the world.
Under the FSIS guidance, companies wishing to label their products as “Grass Fed” need to provide a detailed written description explaining controls for ensuring that the raising claim is valid from birth to harvest, as well as a signed and dated document describing the diet of the animals to support that the claims are not false or misleading.
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