US cattle producers will need to seek out alternate paths to grass-fed label

By Aerin Einstein-Curtis

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Beef Fodder

Starting in January, producers seeking a grass-fed label for their cattle may need to follow a different process.

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has withdrawn​ its marketing claim standards for two ruminant labels – the Grass and Forage Fed Marketing Claim standard and the Naturally Raised Marketing Claim standard, reported agency officials.

“AMS continually reviews the services it provides and determined that these marketing claim standards did not fit within the agency’s statutory mandate,” ​said officials. “Without express authority from Congress – as with the National Organic Program – AMS does not have the authority to define labeling standards and determine if marketing claims are truthful and not misleading. Therefore, it is inappropriate for the agency to offer these as AMS-defined marketing claims.” 

The agency does not have the ability to regulate terms like grass-fed, they said. Instead, it audits processes used to meet labels and groups displaying those labels.

Livestock producers using the USDA Process Verified Program to evaluate a grass-fed claim will have to develop or adopt new standards and have until February 11 to do so, said officials. The new standards should be in place by April 16.

However, this does not mean that all grass-fed labels are set to cease, they said. The agency will continue to act as independent verifiers of several, remaining grass fed beef programs and offer market reports designed to aid producers in understanding the “value of grass-fed cattle and beef.”

Alternatives paths

For producers who wish to continue to carry a label that recognizes their feeding program, there are several options, said officials with the USDA.

Initially, producers carrying a current label from AMS can continue to use that indicator until the certificate expires, they said.

Cattle raisers can convert the requirements laid out in the former Grass Fed Marketing Claim standard into an independent standard and have that verified by AMS through the USDA’s Process Verified Program or a similar USDA-Certified program, said officials. Or, producers can develop their own standards and have that approved.

Additionally, producers seeking to continue using a grass-fed label can seek an alternative grass-fed standard that has already been recognized, they said.

Producers who did not use or reference the AMS standards in obtaining their grass-fed label do not need to change, they said. However, those that did will need to update their supporting documentation.

Small and very small producers                    

There are a few exceptions to the groups who will need to use an alternative labeling process, said USDA officials. Those raising cattle in the small or very small producer programs (SVS) should not see any changes.

“All grass-fed beef verified by AMS using USDA’s Process Verified Program or another USDA-Certified auditing process will still have the objective industry-defined grass-fed standard detailed on our website,”​ said officials.

Those programs are set to remain and continue to be run by the AMS, they said. These apply to farms that market no more than 49 cattle or the lambs from 99 ewes in a year.

However, producers using this program will be getting updated labels, they said. The new ones will document that they meet the SVS Grass Fed Program rather than the Grass (Forage) Fed Standard. 

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