Groups ask for new grass-fed meat label

FSIS in process of updating guidance for approval of animal production claims on food labels.

A coalition of nine agricultural and consumer organizations sent the U.S. Department of Agriculture a letter urging its Food Safety & Inspection Service (FSIS) to reinstate a meaningful label for grass-fed meat.

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) had overseen a voluntary labeling program for grass-fed livestock products since 2007 but withdrew the standard in January. AMS’s revocation of that label claim standard provides an opportunity for FSIS “to provide clear direction to protect the integrity of the market,” the letter said.

FSIS is in the process of updating its guidance for the approval of animal production claims on food labels, and the coalition hopes that will include clear guidance on promoting animal production practices, such as how an animal is fed. FSIS staff has indicated plans to include language to provide standards for a grass-fed label, which signers of the letter believe should be at least as high as the standards in place when AMS was managing the program.

“We strongly oppose any guidance that allows any label claim with the words ‘grass-fed’ for any product that does not, at a minimum, meet the definition within the now-revoked AMS label claim standard. To allow a lower labeling standard would mislead consumers, to the detriment of grass-fed producers,” the coalition wrote.

“Protecting truth and accuracy in the information that we provide to consumers is important for the integrity of our family farmers and ranchers and for our industry as a whole,” National Farmers Union president Roger Johnson said. “When AMS decided to withdraw their grass-fed labeling claim, it left a gap in the marketplace to define this standard. I am hopeful that FSIS will adopt the former AMS standard as their new guidance for the labeling of grass-fed meat products.”

Ferd Hoefner, policy director of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, added, “We spent three years working with AMS to coordinate the robust stakeholder effort that led to the creation of the AMS grass-fed label claim standard. The revocation of the standard by AMS creates a great opportunity for FSIS label guidance, based on the AMS standard, to protect the integrity of the claim and thereby aid both farmers and consumers in this important and growing market.”

The letter was signed by the American Grassfed Assn., Center for Rural Affairs, Consumer Federation of America, Consumer Reports, CROPP Cooperative | Organic Valley | Organic Prairie, Food Animal Concerns Trust, National Farmers Union, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Western Organization of Resource Councils.

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