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USDA Revokes Grass Fed Meat Labeling Standard

January 12, 2016


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Photo credit: USDA

A decision this week by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is about to make meat labeling more confusing for farmers and consumers. On Tuesday, January 12, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rescinded the labeling standard for grass fed meat, which was developed over the course of four years and finalized in 2006 with the support of national farm and consumer organizations, including NSAC.

The AMS notice appeared in the Federal Register on Tuesday, January 12.

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition responded with a press release critical of the decision the same day.

Purportedly the decision to rescind the rule is the result of a new, internal USDA legal decision stating that AMS never had the legal authority to establish the standard in the first place. This ruling comes in spite of the fact that the grass fed label standard was established in 2006, during the Bush Administration, only after four years of rigorous debate between legislators, farmers, and industry leaders as well as several public notice and comment periods. The USDA now claims that this authority, according to the new interpretation, rests solely with USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).

In the Federal Register notice, AMS states that having a strong, clear, consumer-friendly labeling standard “does not facilitate the marketing of agricultural products in a manner that is useful to stakeholders or consumers” because a different USDA agency, FSIS, must be the one to approve meat labels and that “there is no guarantee that an USDA-verified production/marketing claim will be approved by FSIS.”

This ruling by USDA effectively suggests that a well-received, strong USDA label standard is not useful because a partner agency may choose not to recognize the label standard. Instead of insisting that agencies work toward consensus for the greater good, USDA has created a vacuum wherein consumers and ranchers/producers have no uniform standard to guide them.

Instead of throwing out a label standard with widespread support and trust, USDA should insist that AMS and FSIS work together to create and enforce uniform and useful standards. If the justification that AMS does not have the authority to issue the standard is accurate, then FSIS should have adopted and issued the existing AMS standard as its own, simultaneous with AMS’ revocation.

Because the revocation has taken place without simultaneous adoption of the existing standard by FSIS, farmers and meat companies who have been using the USDA grass fed label now have 30 days to either convert the label claim into an existing private grass-fed standard, or develop a new grass fed standard of their own.

NSAC would encourage those affected to take the first option. By developing new, non-uniform standards the term “grass fed” will begin to lose it’s meaning and eventually become useless to consumers. This in turn would severely harm the market for true grass fed meat providers who have followed the more rigorous standard for years.

NSAC member groups, including the Center for Rural Affairs, Land Stewardship Project, Organic Valley, Food Animal Concerns Trust, among others, fought for the creation of the original grass fed label claim and even sponsored farmers to fly to Washington to participate in the process–a process that also included meat companies, consumer groups, and animal welfare organizations.

The now-revoked standard stated among other things that grass, forbs, and forage needed to be 99 percent or more of the energy source for the lifetime of a ruminant species after weaning in order to qualify as grass fed. Prior to the setting of that standard, grain fed animals were often sold as grass fed with full USDA approval.

And just when it seemed like it couldn’t be any worse–right now in the formal list of pending rulemakings for the final year of the Obama Administration there is a proposed rulemaking from FSIS on the creation of a “natural” meat label. It is currently listed for publication in April of this year, though dates often change. We are watching this closely and are confident that any attempt to use that rulemaking to create a naturally raised label will be met with loud opposition from farm and consumer interests.

TAKE ACTION:

NSAC is working with our allies to determine the best path forward. Stay tuned for additional opportunities to weigh in on possible solutions in the coming weeks. In the meantime:

  • If you are an affected farmer/rancher/producer, tell AMS you want to stick with the existing grass fed label standard: Contact David Bowden, Jr. Chief, Standardization Branch, Quality Assessment Division; Livestock, Poultry, and Seed Program; Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA, Room 2096-S, STOP 0249, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW; Washington, D.C. 20250-0249, david.bowden@ams.usda.gov, 202/720-5705. You might also want to call into the AMS conference call to discuss your options and raise your questions and concerns —

Date:  Thursday, January 14, 2016
Time:  11am, EST
Conference Number: 888-844-9904
Passcode: 2887241

  • If you are a concerned farmer/consumer/citizen, let FSIS know they should adopt and strictly enforce the now revoked AMS grass fed standard by sending an email to fsis@usda.gov. In addition, please watch this space for detailed information about petitioning FSIS to adopt and strictly enforce the now revoked AMS grass fed standard.

Categories: Sustainable Livestock


16 responses to “USDA Revokes Grass Fed Meat Labeling Standard”

  1. Sue carter says:

    Are they afraid of a “Welfare Rancher” Bundy Backlash? Boycott Grass-fed beef?

  2. Erik Karell says:

    I just sent the following to fsis@usda.gov. Feel free to copy, paste and/or edit for your own benefit. The more email they receive, the better!

    To whom it may concern,

    Given the recent revocation of the labeling standard for grass fed meat by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, please support reinstating the previous labeling standards for all meat labeled grass fed. The USDA has determined the FSIS alone can determine meat labeling, so I implore you to reestablish this critical label.

    As a concerned consumer of meat, I want to know where my meat comes from, how it was raised, and what the animal ate. Most of the time, official labeling is the only way I can make informed decisions. Please move swiftly to reinstate an excellent standard for the grass fed label.

    Thank you,

  3. Richard Baker says:

    I want to know where my meat comes from and assurance that it does not come from a CAFO source!!!

  4. Diana Dyer says:

    Here is how I tweaked the letter above: (thanks NSAC for this action alert and the email address)

    To whom it may concern,

    As a registered dietitian who recommends (and personally consumes) only meats and dairy products from grass-fed (grass-finished) animals, I am surprised and disheartened to learn of the recent revocation of the grass-fed labeling standard by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service.

    Please support and work toward quickly reinstating the previous grass-fed labeling standards. Apparently (although this does not make any logical sense) the USDA has only now determined the FSIS alone can determine meat labeling, so I urge you to re-establish this critical label as quickly as possible.

    As the health care professional with food and nutrition expertise, I make professional recommendations by educating the public to ask questions about their food, to know where their meat (and all food) comes from, how it was raised, and what the animal ate to make the most healthful choices possible. For people shopping in the grocery stores, official labeling is the only way a concerned consumer can make informed and educated decisions.

    Please move swiftly to reinstate an excellent standard for the grass fed label. In the meantime, I will be doubling my efforts to educate my community to “Know your farmers, Know your foods”, purchasing locally-grown foods directly from farmers and producers who can answer the questions that I outlined above.
    ************
    Although I am not involved as a producer with this issue, I am a certified organic farmer, so this surprising (and seemingly illogical) reversal by the AMS and the USDA is notable and worrisome, i.e. what is next?

  5. Maureen Cox says:

    This is terrible!

  6. Terry Henderson says:

    As a rancher and consumer who raises grass fed beef, I want other consumers to know that when I say grass fed beef, it means that 99% or more of the energy source for the lifetime of the ruminant I raised was grass, forbs, or forage, and NOT grain. I buy other grass-fed by products for health reasons and I don’t want to find out the hard way that those items contain by-products from grain fed animals. Sincerely, Terry Henderson

  7. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Thanks for posting your tweak Diana, I am sure this will help many folks that want to get involved!

  8. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Thank you for your comments and for your work Terry.

  9. Mama V says:

    Could someone please make this a little understandable for me? I don’t know enough about laws or the back story to feel confident about my understanding of this news. Thanks in advance.

  10. Michael Carr says:

    Another offensive assault on consumer right to know the where and how of our food sources.

  11. Connie McNamara says:

    To whom it may concern,

    Given the recent revocation of the labeling standard for grass fed meat by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, please support reinstating the previous labeling standards for all meat labeled grass fed. The USDA has determined the FSIS alone can determine meat labeling, so I implore you to reestablish this critical label.

    As a concerned consumer of meat, I want to know where my meat comes from, how it was raised, and what the animal ate. Most of the time, official labeling is the only way I can make informed decisions. Please move swiftly to reinstate an excellent standard for the grass fed label.

    Thank you,

  12. […] After January 12, 2016: On Tuesday, January 12, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rescinded the labeling standard for grass fed meat, which was developed over the course of four years and finalized in 2006 with the support of national farm and consumer organizations, including NSAC. Read the full article here […]

  13. Maggie Lyons says:

    Thank you for sharing your e-mail, Erik. I copied it and sent it off. The government’s and corporations’ continual destruction and dilution of healthy food protections is a crisis no one should ignore.

  14. Shelle Prince says:

    As a healthcare Professional I am appalled at the revocation of the grass fed labeling standard by the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service. The 2006 grass fed labeling is sufficient and needs no new interpetation. Ninty-nine percent grass fed is clear. That tells me as a consumer the animal ate natural diet of grass as it would had it lived in the wild.

    Will conventional ranchers now be allowed to claim” grass fed” for one day in the field and 29 days crowded in the barn on un-natually force fed grains?
    This is a intrusion on my free liberties to know as a consumer the choice of foods I purchase for my family is the quality I expect.
    This ridiculous change to the grass fed labeling standard is a win for big subsidized farmers who lobby to attack organic farmers whose products not only sustain a heathy environment but provide a natural product for consumers like me. This horrific change of quality standards forces me to buy local.

  15. With the health concerns of the citizens of the United States growing every single day, we need more information about our food, not less! For the food manufacturers who don’t want to provide this information, I will not be buying your product. Listen to what the public wants.

  16. […] Marketing Service (AMS) has revoked the grass-fed meat labeling standard, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). This doesn’t mean meat will not be labeled as grass-fed. It means that the USDA […]

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