Grass-fed Meat Standards Announced

After a long five-year wait, the U.S. Department of Agriculture delivered family farmers and ranchers a victory!

On October 16, 2007, USDA Agriculture Marketing Service released the final standards for the voluntary grass-fed label claim as it would apply to ruminant animals and the meat products derived from those animals. The final published standard is much improved over the original issued way back in December of 2002.

The original proposal called for only 80 percent of the animal’s diet to be grass-based. That dismayed us, and we went to work with other organizations to get a tougher standard in place. After all that work, we believe we can call this a success!

USDA’s new standard is 100 percent grass and forage (non-grain based forage), with the exception of milk (or milk replacer) prior to weaning. The standard also indicates that animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season.

This is what people envision when they think of “grass fed” – cattle actually enjoying fresh grass on pasture. We applaud USDA for sharing that vision and for listening to the concerns of the family farmers and ranchers who have pioneered the grass-fed market.

We also applaud the farmers and ranchers who took time out of their busy schedules to participate – farmers like Bev and Chuck Henkel who even sponsored a farm tour for Bill Sessions, Associate Deputy Administrator of the Livestock and Seed Program, Agriculture Marketing Service, USDA. Mr. Sessions was able to get a first-hand look at a 100 percent grass-fed system. Others participating included Paul Swanson, Tom German, and Terry Gompert.

Bev Henkel and Paul Swanson also took time to make the trip to Washington, DC for our first meeting with Bill Sessions and the other staff members working on the grass-fed standard. These efforts clearly made a difference in the result!

We must admit that one part of the new standard gave us pause: If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer must fully document … the supplementation that occurs.

This provision could provide for extreme conditions resulting from drought or severe winter weather, etc. We don’t believe it creates a loophole to allow non-grass-fed beef to be marketed as such. We’ll be closely watching to make sure.

Contact: Traci Bruckner, tracib@cfra.org or 402.687.2103 x 1016 for information.

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