The manipulation of the Shirley Sherrod video for partisan gain was not just an egregious injustice to Shirley Sherrod, it was an egregious injustice to all of America’s black farmers, to elderly black farmers in particular, to Dr. John Boyd, Jr. and the National Black Farmers Association (NBFA), and to the employees of the USDA and other governmental organizations who have worked to make amends for one of the most shameful periods in the history of American agriculture. Injustice is injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. Righting an injustice can be a long and thorny process, as Dr. Boyd, President of the NBFA, can attest. He has fought for years to get justice for black farmers who were victims of widespread, decades-long discrimination by the USDA. Finally triumphant, in 1999 and again in 2008, he won settlements from the government that will provide legions of now mostly elderly black farmers, victims of the blatant racism formerly displayed by the USDA, with the money they are rightfully owed. The Senate still won’t fund the 2008 settlement. The injustice continues. Animal Welfare Approved has long supported Dr. Boyd in his quest to see his fight brought to an end, especially since, as he often points out, the farmers for whom the settlement is intended are beginning to die. "I'm frustrated," Boyd said Thursday in an NPR interview. "I'm frustrated that I'm still begging for votes in the Senate for something that should have been done years ago.”
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 of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it.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.