On April 29, USDA’s Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) announced the establishment of a new certification option for small grass-fed beef producers. The Grass-Fed Program for Small and Very Small (SVS) Producers is a new offshoot of the Grass-Fed Marketing Claim Standard available under the USDA Process Verified Program (PVP).
The new option allows small operations marketing 49 cattle or less each year to certify their product as consistent with the strict grass fed label claim through a less costly application process than is the case under the regular Process Verified Program. The intent of the new option is to create more economic opportunities for small-scale, niche market livestock producers.
NSAC led a several year campaign with producer and consumer organizations to get USDA to revoke several weak proposed consumer label standards that would have allowed industrial feedlots and conventional processing plants to slightly alter their practices and still qualify for the premium “grass-fed” label. We then successfully worked with AMS to issue proposed and then final rules for the current, strong grass-fed claim that protects this important niche market for sustainable family farmers while protecting consumer label integrity. The final rule went into effect in 2009.
The grass-fed marketing claim standard requires that ruminant animals be fed only grass and forage, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Animals certified under this program cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.
Under the voluntary labeling regime, the producer must pay a user fee to use the USDA PVP seal. The cost involved has limited the direct usefulness of the program for small and mid-sized farms, even while it has served to indirectly help protect the integrity of their market.
Under the new option, a less costly application process may expand the direct usefulness of the program for the segment of the market USDA is targeting – those producers with fewer than 50 head. Producers certified under the new option will receive certificates to market cattle to processing facilities as USDA grass-fed, but still will not be allowed to use the USDA PVP grass-fed seal.
A USDA blog post on the new option provides further details.
We applaud USDA and AMS for initiating this new option and look forward to expanding sustainable livestock marketing and economic opportunities further by developing additional niche market label claim standards and expanding the new lower cost option to a wide swath of small and mid-sized farms and ranches.