NSAC's Blog

RELEASE: USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label Standard

January 12, 2016


Contact: Ferd Hoefner 202-547-5754

USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label Standard

Sustainable Agriculture Coalition Speaks Out Against Decision

Washington, DC, January 12, 2016 – Today in the Federal Register, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rescinds the labeling standard for grass fed meat that was developed over the course of four years and finalized, with the support of national farm and consumer organizations including NSAC, in 2006.

“Meat labeling just became even more confusing for farmers and consumers,” said Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “USDA is revoking a label standard that had widespread farm and consumer support. Actions such as this take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose.”

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, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), must approve meat labels and “there is no guarantee that an USDA-verified production/marketing claim will be approved by FSIS.”

“The rationale that a strong USDA label standard for grass fed beef is not useful because it might not be recognized by a partner agency is outrageous,” said Hoefner. “It is both sad and true that these two USDA agencies often do not coordinate, and worse yet that in some cases FSIS has looked the other way, allowing particularly unscrupulous meat companies to abuse the USDA standard,” Hoefner said. “But the common sense solution is not to revoke the standard, but instead to tackle siloing and lack of interagency communication head-on.”

The Federal Register notice gives producers using the grass fed label 30 days to either convert the newly revoked USDA grass fed label claim into their own private grass-fed standard, or to develop a new grass fed standard of their own.

“Rather than bringing consistency and common sense to our food marketing system, USDA seems to be throwing in the towel,” said Hoefner. “This is terrible public policy that will create a multitude of non-uniform labels, which will open the door to more confusion and subterfuge in the marketplace. It is an affront to consumers, who have the right to know how their food is raised, and to the farmers whose innovation and hard work created the trusted grass fed label standard. NSAC and our member organizations believe this reversal is a detriment to a fair and transparent food system and we urge the USDA to come up with an alternative solution quickly.”

The grass fed label claim standard now being revoked was originally published in the Federal Register on May 12, 2006, the result of several years of meetings between farmers and farm and consumer organizations sponsored by AMS and facilitated by NSAC, as well as by a formal public notice and comment process. The 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 USDA’s approval.


About the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC)

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition is a grassroots alliance that advocates for federal policy reform supporting the long-term social, economic, and environmental sustainability of agriculture, natural resources, and rural communities. Learn more: https://sustainableagriculture.net

Categories: Press Releases

49 responses to “RELEASE: USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label Standard”

  1. Debbie capria says:

    What can we, the people, do to ensure that we have properly labeled foods?

  2. Marcie M says:

    I, for one, have only eaten grass fed and pastured meats for the last 1 1/2 hears and feel so much better to have all of the hormones and pesticides out of my system? How sad that something that was worked to hard to gain (grass fed labeling) can be wiped out by someones autocratic pen. SHAME ON YOU GOVERNMENT!! As a consumer, I DEMAND that you implement something to ensure we are no longer poisoning our bodies with this CRAPS and that we are easily able to tell what we are eating.

  3. Jennifer L says:

    This is an absolute disgrace, threat to health, threat to our environment, and very alarming move by our government.

  4. Eileen says:

    If you know of something we can do or if a petition is started or something, please update us! This is so disheartening.

  5. Will says:

    Just as before the label requirement arrived in 2006, as well as all the years since, as well as now where we have no label, the most important thing a consumer can do is Eat Local. What that means, is KNOW YOUR FARMER. Ideally, the goal is to shake hands with the farmer who raises your food. It’s important enough to spend the time, plus it can be quite fun! If you don’t know where to start, go to eatwild.com. Also, check out westonaprice.org (the Weston A. Price Foundation) shopping guide. Cheaters have been selling grain-fed beef for years and will continue to do so! In fact, there’s way more “cheater beef” being sold today than genuine 100% grass-fed.

  6. SEB says:

    We need to know and should have the right to know what we eat.
    What can be done, so that we the consumers, can be properly informed. Specific and truthful labeling will contribute to a transparent and an accountable agricultural industry.

    Who is the government trying to protect Big Industry or The People??? Who is the government working for?

    The US government is quick to criticize other governments – please take a look at yourself before criticizing other countries, perhaps learn from some European countries or Be The Leader In The World, by example!

  7. Charles Hickl says:

    The head of USDA needs to be replaced! USDA and FSIS don’t agree on issues? We need leadership! Fortunately we’ll have new leadership in Washington in 2017.

  8. Tia Stanley says:

    We respond with our wallets. If not clearly labeled with specific information, do not buy it. Contact USDA as well and complain.

  9. Anonymous says:

    Marcie and Debbie,
    You both raise valid points and questions. I’ve been thinking about this concept quite a bit. Here is the conclusion I’ve reached that provides some hope.
    Quite realistically the USDA, like every other government agency, has been largely relied upon to set standards with overstretched resources. They are unable to support the tracking and regulation required for effective compliance, unless of course they can increase the budget for such measures. We all know what that could imply.
    So, the glimmer of light is that there are producers of beef that hold themselves accountable to these sets of standards or even supersede them. Get to know a beef producer who conducts business as such; there are many! It’s great to build a relationship with a beef producer and they feel appreciated for your earnest interest. Hop on Google, pick up the phone and call the first 5 contacts that appear in your search near your area, and date them. I’ve been fortunate to meet a few producers out there take great pride in their standards for feeding, animal handling and customer relations. From one grass fed consumer to another, you have an excellent perspective and rest assured that the USDA is not required to carry the burden of “certification.” They have too much food on their plate already.
    Good luck!

  10. […] (read more – https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/release-usda-revokes-grass-fed-label-standard/ ) […]

  11. Anne says:

    Am also interested innfindingnout how we would voice opposition to this.

  12. Karen says:

    Are you kidding me? The only way we eat beef at all if trusting the grass-fed label. Over the past few years, we have reduced our intake of beef. At least the little we ate was healthier than the stock yard crap. The meat industry coerced or paid you into dancing around the science of food recommendations and now this! You have just caused this consumer to jump head first into veganism. Teddy Roosevelt must be rolling in his grave!

  13. Reana Kovalcik says:

    It really is disturbing news! NSAC will be fighting hard for a consumer and farmer positive resolution to this issue, so please stay tuned. If you want to contact FSIS and voice your opposition to this move you can find the contact information on our latest blog post on the subject: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/

  14. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Hi Anne, thanks for your comment. NSAC will be following up with action opportunities on this very soon, but for now please feel free to share our blogs/facebook posts and contact FSIS through the contact info on our latest blog post: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/

  15. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Thanks Tia, we appreciate your support on this issue. You can find a contact email for FSIS on our latest blog post: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/

  16. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Hi Debbie, NSAC will be updating everyone with more action opportunities soon, but for now you can find an FSIS contact on our latest blog post here: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/. We encourage you to contact them and voice your opinion!

  17. Reana Kovalcik says:

    Hi Marcie, thanks for your comments. NSAC will be posting more action opportunities soon, but for now we encourage everyone interested to contact FSIS and voice their opinions. Contact here: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/

  18. Reana Kovalcik says:

    We will have some action opportunities for everyone soon Eileen! For now you can contact FSIS and voice your concerns. Contact info via: https://sustainableagriculture.net/blog/usda-revokes-grassfed-standard/

  19. […] issue – lack of coordination between partner agencies – AMS’ solution has drawn swift criticism from those who say the policy will create non-uniform labels and erode consumer trust in “grass […]

  20. Sarah Neri says:

    Grass fed animals produce healthier meat and dairy products for human consumption as well as health of the animal, than grain. Most animals are fed GMO corn in the USA and the animals are pumped full of hormones and medicines especially antibiotics to offset the crap they’re eating.

    Please can someone who who knows more about this topic create a succinct petition for the rest of the world to sign??

    The FDA ‘s decisions are all based on profit margins and flogging pharmaceutical and bio-agricultural products, so this decision is bound to be for identical reasons. It all falls under further deregulation to prevent the entire food industry from having to answer for its decisions or justify their processes.

  21. marlene says:

    2 things:
    How come NSAC did not know these talks were happening prior to this announcement?
    and #2, Would this have something to do with the current movement against unclean meats from the big meat companies. (and Chipotle). Perhaps we are making ground!

  22. Gabe Brown says:

    The response to this is to eat local, know your farmer!

  23. all the more reason to know your farmers!

  24. Candace says:

    While “know your local farmer” may be fun and all… Please consider those in the inner city and/or families with a very limited budget or knowledge of such matters. The average U.S. Citizen trusts that the USDA is overseeing food safety. This is criminal!

    This has the potential to be an election year political golden nugget, appealing to every single person. Food safety and labeling, no more country of origin? Who cares about guns when cancer is killing millions more of us?! Seriously. You’re scared of “terrorists”? Ha!

  25. Bryan Cox says:

    Cows have been feeding off grass for the last 1,000,000 years. Nothing new there. The “Grass Fed” label, in my opinion was a marketing ploy. I haven’t been able to buy good beef in over twenty years. Restaurants roll their steaks in spices these days to give them flavor, but they can’t bring back the flavor that made beef famous. I’ve all but abandoned beef.

  26. Kimberly Watson says:

    This is exactly why we sell our own pasture raised, grass fed beef to our family and friends. It’s the only way we can all know what we are eating. We don’t use antibiotics, hormones, steroids and we raise our own calves from mommas we bred ourselves. When you buy from the store you have no idea what you’re eating.

  27. Lava says:

    Could producers use the grass-fed label anyway?

  28. Grey says:

    All the more reason to make the shift towards a plant-based diet.

    America’s addiction to animal products (especially beef and dairy) is a direct cause for not only unfathomable amounts of suffering for animals , but also water shortages in the U.S., deforestation throughout the western hemisphere, greenhouse gas emissions and increasingly antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Our beloved burgers are wreaking absolute havoc on the biosphere. Yes, grass-fed is a step in the right direction away from factory-farmed, but having that label alone does not make it sustainable. Not by a long shot.

    If you’re seriously concerned about making your beef consumption sustainable, humane and healthy, then you shouldn’t be going to grocery stores to get your fix. Eat local and eat green.

  29. Keith F. Johnson says:

    I expected at some point Big Ag ( CAFOs, plus corn and soybean producers) would feel threatened by Grass-Fed production and take action to impede us. Is that what is going on here? Is Big Ag money greasing the wheels at USDA again?

  30. Beverly McConnell says:

    If our government can’t or WON’T fight for our health…then we as citizens have to look after ourselves…and GROW OUR OWN!!! Just STOP buying crap meats that is shipped in here.

  31. […] more confusing yet interesting it has become, there are so many loop holes in the process and the USDA is not doing the greatest job. Anyway, for now organic will do and if you want to learn more on how organic labels work, click […]

  32. Sandra Huck says:

    Is it possible that the USDA has made this decision based on the fact that they have given approval for GMO alfalpha? Therefore with uncontrolled cross pollination there will be no means to control the ‘grass’ a cow eats and “grass fed” will have no validity anyway.

  33. Anne Altizer says:

    This is outrageous. Once again the federal government has let us, the American people, down. How sad that a system has been put in place that so many people depend upon, yet we cannot trust the people who run the agencies that put out the standards. I have no faith at all in Washington.

  34. Ellen says:

    Grassfed is the nutritious omega 3 fats that improve the good cholesterol-grain fed is the bad omega 6-that increase our bad cholesterol. We have a right to to know if we are making ourselves more vulnerable to cancer and many other diseases.

  35. Laura says:

    The remedy for this is to vote for Bernie Sanders. He’s the only one who cares about food quality and will take the USDA and fix it so it protects us instead of hurting us. How do I know this? Because of Bernie Sanders, Vermont has the cleanest food laws including GMO laws in the nation. Please do not fail to vote if you care about food. There is no substitute for Bernie Sanders. He’s bonafide.

  36. Sam says:

    My understanding is that beef could be raised on anything, but as long as it spent the last six weeks of its life on grass then it can be sold as grass-fed. I don’t trust anything except the organic label, when I have a choice at the health food store. We also know a few local farmers and the one who feeds the day old bakery junk food to we don’t purchase from, so it works both ways. I hope that labeling of all kinds will be an issue resolved transparently this year.

  37. […] is revoking a label standard that had widespread farm and consumer support,” says Ferd Hoefner of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Actions such as this […]

  38. […] said in a blog at the organization’s website the USDA should face the issue with better coordination between its Food Safety and Inspection […]

  39. The best solution would be to label all grain-fed and stockyard-fed beef — and make those producers bear the expense of certification.

  40. Reana Kovalcik says:

    The grass fed label comes with a lot of confusion, and the recent ruling from USDA does not help things. While grass fed meats should have a label on them stating the percentage that is grass fed, the best way to know your food is always to know your farmer- as you point out.

  41. […] National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition responded with a press release critical of the decision the same […]

  42. Irish says:

    Big help, big help. And sulripateve news of course.

  43. Andrea Santoni says:

    MUST maintain the grass fed label standard!!

  44. […] response, a Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Commission said, “Actions such as this take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both […]

  45. Mike says:

    Sad to say, but USDA continues to pay more attention to the big industrial Ag folks. Perhaps the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition might create a label or team with some additional nonprofits to create a viable grass fed label standard?

  46. […] DID THE USDA GET RID OF THEIR GRASS FED LABEL? USDA Revokes Grass Fed Label StandardIn today’s episode, our hosts Jimmy Moore and Jenna Lightfoot (aka Jenna The Paleo PA) are […]

  47. Wenchypoo says:

    It doesn’t help matters that (horticulturcally speaking) corn and wheat are members of the grass family–this means farmers can go on feeding corn and wheat without violating the grass-fed standards. This is when grass doesn’t mean the green stuff growing on the ground.

    This may be why the label got pulled.

  48. Sarah Hackney says:

    Hi there – thanks for your comment. While it is true that corn is a grass, the standard does not allow farmers to feed the grain portion of the plant under the grass-fed label. Here is the relevant text from the standard: “Grass and/or forage shall be 99 percent or higher of the energy/feed source consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant animal, with the exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. The energy/feed source shall be derived from forage consisting of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g. legumes, brassicas), browse, and/or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, and crop residue without grain may also be included as acceptable energy/feed sources.”