The USDA Will No Longer Regulate ‘Grass-Fed’ Labels—Here's What That Means for You

January 26, 2016
by Steve Holt for Thrive Market
The USDA Will No Longer Regulate ‘Grass-Fed’ Labels—Here's What That Means for You

Around the halls and water coolers of the United States Department of Agriculture, the buzz these days is all about labels.

On one hand, you have the labeling discussion we’ve all heard about: whether to label genetically engineered foods, and if so, how to do so in the most transparent way. That discussion, by all accounts, isn’t going so well for labeling advocates. USDA Sec. Tom Vilsack was unable to create synergy between food companies (who oppose mandatory labeling) and proponents at a secret summit earlier this month.

The labeling news you probably didn't hear about pertains to the USDA’s grass-fed label. In a statement posted on Jan. 12, the agency quietly announced that its Agricultural Marketing Services department would no longer be issuing and regulating the official “USDA grass-fed” labels, saying they “do not fit within the agency’s statutory authorities” and “it is not in AMS’s role to define [grass-fed] standards.” Grass-fed beef is known to have many health benefits over grain-fed, as it's leaner and contains a higher percentage of “good" fats.

As we’ve reported before, deciphering the claims on the foods we purchase can be tricky business—especially when regulatory bodies don't set strict standards for each label. This appears to have been true for the USDA grass-fed standard established in 2007. For instance, the label still allowed livestock to be confined, raised outside of the United States, and fed antibiotics and hormones.

Moving forward, the USDA will still approve and regulate the labeling process for grass-fed beef going to market, but it is removing itself from defining what grass-fed means. Instead, the agency is asking the four—yes, only four—companies currently using the USDA grass-fed label to either adopt the USDA’s current standard as their own, create their own standard, or adopt another existing standard.

Some in sustainable agriculture have said that the USDA’s move will “take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose.” In other words, the USDA grass-fed label may follow the lead of so many other food labels that don't mean what consumers assume they mean. For sure, this move should make you pause and research the practices of individual companies who use this claim. If information isn't readily available, reach out and try to dig up your own information.

What’s more, the USDA grass-fed label applied to only a few of the products from just four companies, and there are other private labels for animal health and welfare that more carefully define their standards. Three of the best ones to look for are American Grassfed Association, Food Alliance Certified, and Animal Welfare Approved—all of which guarantee not only what an animal consumes, but also that it was raised and slaughtered in a humane way.

Photo credit: Dave Young via Flickr

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This article is related to: Food, Grass-Fed, News, Educational

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  • yael58

    I am getting so damn tired of these crooked politicians being in the back pockets of Big Business. I am especially sick and tired of how they don't give a damn about their constituents in particular and our country's people in general.
    It's always a matter of "follow the money", isn't it?

  • Meredith Amonson

    Sandy Lerner of Ayrshire Farm has been charged with criminal animal cruelty in Loudoun County Virginia for failing to provide adequate care to her livestock.

    This farm is Animal Warfare Approved and Food Alliance Certified. These certifications are frauds and their humane standards are merely unenforced suggestions.

  • Mel T

    The USDA have no interest in labeling meat fed infectious GMO grains and grasses used for feed. The same reason they will not label them for you.

  • Health Nerd

    Of course they don't want strict labeling. Grass-fed meat is taking profits from the big grain fed business. These loose terms will enable them to label grain fed "grass-fed" just because a cow may have taken a bite of grass at some point in it's life. UGHHH. It would be great if everyone would boycott the system all at once. Give local farmers all the business. Big Agriculture would freak out.

  • limeviolet

    I don't buy food with labels, or encased in plastic on Styrofoam trays. I buy my grass-fed beef from a local farmer.

  • White Widow 2007

    WTF! Eliminate or disband the USDA! They no longer have our best interests in mind!

  • TheAngryFag

    The FDA might not be able to regulate it within statutory limits, but the FTC probably can if a company lies about it on the label.

  • Jonathan Plaster

    So the market has already solved the problem.

  • Carol Cox

    remember folks, congress removed the COOL Act, - now meat will come flooding in from South America, Mexico, Asia, Canada, Horse meat, dog meat, rat meat, goat, sheep, Mystery meat, various road kills, with a simple label, beef, you will never know, congress did this,

  • Keith Tauber

    Did anyone read the link to the grass fed conference call notes? I did. What is said here by this article or many in their comments is not at all what was said in that document. Producers who label their cattle as grass fed must still be 100% grass fed. They may also label it as a percentage like 90% grass fed and 10% grain fed or 50% grass fed and 50% grain finished etc. Whatever the companies chose as their standard, they have to PROVE it. So essentially nothing has changed. That is the take I got after reading those 9 pages.

  • debbie

    Boy oh boy every year the USDA seems to be doing less and less as far as informing consumers.... WHAT the H-LL DO they do???? Oh that's right they slap USDA stickers on any animal... Like our companion horses who have altered toxic meat..... That will be sold to unsuspecting consumers... oH but wait again .... They quietly also NOW have NO responsibility for exporting horses its up to the country's who take them..... USDA.... FDA..... FSIS are all a farce.... And a fraud..... Like I guess our whole bought Government!!!!! This is suppose to be a Country of Democracy???????????? HA NO

  • Bethany

    i buy from local farmers only anyways

  • question everything

    Its more than likely because in the statues, which are created by man, canNOT regulate nature. You can't patent nature so there's no regulation of it...and as usual, they want us to question it ourselves not trust a product that is healthier for you so you get sick, go to their doctors and take their drugs....see the pattern?

  • Cindy Broenner

    well...overall- either will all be about big label it any way you want..and for all those people that strictly want to purchase grain fed beef...what will you tell them?.

  • Donna V Turner

    "all of which guarantee not only what an animal consumes, but also that it was raised and slaughtered in a humane way."
    Excuse me, but how do you kill someone humanely?? Killing is violent and bloody, no animal just lays down and dies. All animals are killed in the same manner and nobody seems to give a damn as long as they don't have to know the truth. Grass fed cows are shipped to the same slaughterhouses that factory farmed animals are sent to, it's not pretty and it's far from humane.

  • Leila Deurell

    I will only buy in my local place where they raise the cows.

  • CJ Date

    "Grass-fed" always seemed vague to me. What percentage of the cattle's feed must be grass in order to meet that standard? Is hay considered "grass"? If the percentage of grass is 100%, isn't that unreasonably strict? Clover isn't grass. Alfalfa isn't grass, so what if a cow gets into the neighbor's alfalfa field?

  • Rene E Porcile

    What is the difference between grass fed and grain fed cows?
    The main difference I see is that grass fed cows produce OMEGA 3 fats in their meat, milk and milk products. Whereas, grain fed cows produce OMEGA 6 which is inflammatory! We need omega 3,6 and 9. But, we have way too much omega 6 in our diets causing health problems with our cardiovascular system and brain function. Big Ag and Big Pharma work together on the upper financial side - Big Ag supplies incorrect nutrients to cause health problems. then, Big Pharma cashes-in with drug sales. Big Pharma is the 2nd largest economy in the world, next to Big Oil - wars are fought over oil, GL to everyone

  • Linda Boyce


  • Richard Tebaldi

    Can you imagine the gall these egomaniacal Congressmen are that they refuse to write and pass a regulation to protect American Citizens?
    They then tell us "we feel your pain, we are working for you"! What a bunch of lying thieves! YOU THINK we won't vote you out of your pedestal? YOU ARE WRONG!
    We will vote for TRUMP, the only man willing and able to change the rules of "business as usual"! You prefer SUPERPAC money to votes? Go ahead! I'm going to vote for TRUMP and watch you egomaniacs go the way of the dinosaur...You've been ignoring your constituents for 40 years. The Party is coming to a close!

  • Vegan Boots

    Here's an easy solution: stop eating meat. It's better for you, for the earth and for the animals!

  • fine53

    Why do we even have a usda? This branch of government has done little in recent times to protect consumers from anything. They may as well be gone.

  • vrn2

    I don't get excited at the "grass-fed" label. While it seems better on the surface, if it's not organic grass but rather grass that has been GMO modified or sprayed with pesticides you may be doing more harm than good. Buying from local farmers so that you know what your are getting seems to be the only way to buy safe meat.

  • lydeeyah

    Never spoken of on FOX or MSNBC, CNN, media TV, etc. The recent budget by the U.S. Congress included on a back page, the COOL ACT; relates to trade (don't forget corporate ag and food chain ownership). The TPP is not doing well in the EU. Lucky day will be if it totally fails. The COOL ACT seemed, I believe, to be a precursor to the TPP, re: imports of unlabled meat, fish, poultry from other countries. Seems that the meat, fish, poultry are already "on ice" in U.S. stores without "place of origin" labels.

  • BCre8f2

    Puzzling. Government is happy to get in the middle of things they shouldn't be in, yet they choose to not actually take care of the things they should.