Meat labeling became murky when Congress repealed Country-of-Origin-Labeling (COOL) standards last month, but now the waters are even further muddied by the USDA’s move to revoke the grass fed label as well. On January 12, 2016 the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) rescinded the labeling standard for grass fed meat. The standard had been developed over the course of 4 years and finalized in 2006. It was supported by national farm and consumer organizations.
Ferd Hoefner, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said, “Meat labeling just became even more confusing for farmers and consumers. The 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.”
AMS claimed 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.”
In response to the AMS claim Ferd Hoefner said, “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. 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. 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 gave 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. The grass fed label claim standard that was revoked stated among other things that grass, forbs, and forage needed to be 99 percent or more of the energy source for the lifetime of a ruminant species after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.
The standard for Red Cedar Bison goes a step beyond the 2006 mandate for grass fed. Our bison are grass fed and grass finished. From the time that a bison calf is weaned they eat nothing but the grass below their feet. We do not feed our bison grain at any point in their lives.
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