On the heels of a previous report highlighting lack of enforcement and oversight in our food system, the U.S. Office of Inspector General’s (OIG) new report on whether milk marketed as organic actually meets the National Organic Program’s standards is a real wake-up call to the organic community. And so it should be. Consumers pay a significant premium for organic products and rightly expect transparency and oversight. However, the OIG's new report, "Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program - Organic Milk," exposes major failings of the National Organic Program’s (NOP) certification and auditing systems. At a time when consumers are turning their backs on industrialized farming systems – and genetically modified (GM) farming in particular – the new report raises real questions about exactly what people are paying for when they buy organic milk.
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 of Agriculture (USDA) announced it had withdrawn its grassfed standard used in livestock and meat marketing due to lack of a clear congressional mandate to maintain it.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.