Despite the recent recession, it’s great to see that demand for high-welfare, sustainable meats, dairy products, and eggs continues to grow. As the public wakes up to the negative impacts of intensive farming, they’re looking for food labels that provide real assurances that the food they buy is healthful, and produced with animal welfare and the environment in mind. Many different businesses have now set up programs to offer consumers certain assurances about the food they buy. It goes without saying that the many different labels offered by food businesses vary enormously in terms of their scope and operation. However, most of the claims are centered on claims that farmers are using humane, sustainable farming practices, or that animals are fed a strictly controlled diet, or that medications or hormones are restricted or even prohibited. Since it’s impossible for each of us to go out and check the farms ourselves, we effectively take it on face value that the food label we choose to support really does deliver the benefits that it promises.
On January 12, the Agriculture Marketing Service (AMS) of the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it.
AWA has long highlighted the major deficiencies in the USDA grassfed label claim (see The Grassfed Primer, page 5). For example, under this standard farmers could confine cattle on dirt feedlots for long periods outside the growing season, or use growth hormones and subtherapeutic antibiotics, and still market the beef under the USDA grassfed label claim–just as long as they fed the animals cut grass or forage. Yet despite these clear limitations, we recognize the USDA grassfed standard at least provided a minimum baseline in the market.
We believe the removal of the USDA grassfed standard will lead to significant confusion in the marketplace about grassfed label claims, and could allow unscrupulous operations to market meat or dairy products as “grassfed” when their production methods do not even meet the previous low requirements of the USDA standards, potentially eroding consumer trust in all grassfed label claims.
In a conference call on January 14, 2016, staff representatives from USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS, the branch responsible for approving label claims) said that grassfed label claims would still require official approval before use, and this would only be granted where “sufficient documentation” was provided that animals are fed a 100 percent forage diet from weaning onwards. However, a signed statement (affidavit) from the farmer is typically considered sufficient documentation, and there is no requirement for such label claims to be verified in any way.
While these changes at the USDA are largely procedural, this development could result in a proliferation of “grassfed” claims that do not meet consumer expectations. In light of the USDA’s announcement, transparent third-party certifications that clearly define 100 percent grassfed production (like Certified Grassfed by AGW) become more important than ever for protecting the interests of “true” grassfed farmers and conscientious consumers alike.
Farms that are Certified Grassfed by AGW are well placed to reassure consumers that their products really are 100 percent grassfed. Recognized by Consumers Reports as a “highly meaningful” label claim, Certified Grassfed by AGW is the only program in North America that guarantees:
- Ruminant animals raised outdoors on pasture for their entire lives, with an entirely grass and forage diet
- Animals raised according to the highest animal welfare and environmental standards in the U.S. and Canada
- High-welfare handling, transport, and slaughter of animals–including an annual review of slaughter facilities
A Greener World will continue to promote Certified Grassfed by AGW farmers and their products, and maintain its position as a beacon of trust and integrity in what has likely just become an even more confusing marketplace.