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What Does My “Grass Fed” Label Really Mean in 2016?

February 26, 2016674Views

The relationship between consumers and producers is in shambles. Let’s just say that right off the bat. You can point fingers at big industry out for all it can cheat us out of, the government not adequately regulating industry, or the consumer pressuring the industry to produce better, faster, cheaper but I tend to abide by the idea that the easiest person to change is myself. Is it fair? No. But informing myself will allow me to make purchasing decisions that support the farmers that are doing this the right way.

So, in a market that perverts the phrases “free-range”, “cage-free”, “all natural”, and even “not raised with artificial growth hormones” how can concerned consumers find good products and how can ethical producers get those products to them?

Luckily here in Raleigh, North Carolina, I can drive one town over to a great co-op or 40 minutes north to a small farm (that supplies the co-op). I can look at the animals and tell how they’re being treated and even meet the farmer raising them.
Unfortunately not everyone has access to this and sometimes when I run out of burger I can’t drive the 1 hour plus round trip and still have time to cook dinner. That’s when we enter “dun dun duuuun” the grocery store! If chicken and eggs weren’t annoying enough to figure out with “free-range” now meaning “has a small patch of dirt”, in January 2016 the marketing standard for the “Grass Fed” label was removed.
Now, from what I’ve read, there were a few issues with this label. From Bethany’s Primal Pastures blog, there are a couple loop holes. First, the grass didn’t have to be fresh. It could be cut and dried which is perfect for keeping cows in feedlot-type containment while still producing “grass fed” beef. Second, referencing a guest post by David Maren of Tendergrass Farms on Mark’s Daily Apple, there’s a loophole that allows the animal to be fed grain “to ensure the animal’s well being at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions.” This, in Maren’s example, allowed one Virgina company to feed their cows up to 2% of the animal’s weight in grain each day during the “winter months” (5 months out of 12) and still use the “Grass Fed” label.
Still, at least there WAS a standard. But no longer! The Agricultural Marketing Service has decided with the Food Safety Inspection Service that maintaining a marketing claim standard was outside the AMS’s authority and within the FSIS’s. Because nominally that makes sense…NOT!
Previously, under the AMS, the “Grass Fed” USDA label meant the animal had been raised 100% on grass after being weaned. Now, under the FSIS, companies submit their definition of grass fed and it is approved on a case by case basis with percentages outside 100% being acceptable. The notes from the AMS/FSIS conference call details that, “FSIS does not restrict companies to only being 100% Grass Fed. FSIS will also allow companies to make other diet and grass fed percentage claims…” So, assuming everything is properly enforced and regulated, 100% Grass Fed means that the animal ate 100% grass (because that always happens with government regulation). I could not find, however, anywhere the FSIS specifically determined what “Grass Fed” by itself would now mean. If the animal is 90% grass fed does it have to say 90%? Or can it still just say “Grass Fed”? What about finishing? If it is grain finished can it say “Grass Fed” or “Grass Fed, Grain Finished”? There is no standard, it’s now a case by case basis. This is really important. MOST cows are fed grass early in their life, at least in the US. Not positive about other countries. Based on government regulation track record…I’m going to go with USDA “Grass Fed” now meaning that the animal ate a blade of grass (fresh or dried) at some point in its life.
As a bonus–though I haven’t been able to confirm this via specific cases–Fred Hoefner, Policy Director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition has been less than enthusiastic about the FSIS’s track record in the past, saying that “in some cases FSIS has looked the other way, allowing particularly unscrupulous meat companies to abuse the USDA standard.”
So what’s a poor consumer to do if the nearest farm is out of reach? If I had to bet (which, consumption-wise I’m sure I will) my money would land on the “100% Grass Fed” or “Grass Finished” labels. It might be dried and the animal may be in bad conditions, I won’t know, but I will know it ate more grass than an animal without that label. Wow, that sounds really encouraging, doesn’t it? There are also independent certifiers out there we can rely on, similar to the Certified Humane label for eggs. The AGA is a good one for beef and I am sure there are others.
Long term I’m getting an upright ice chest for cow shares and so I won’t have those “oh, drat, I’m out of hamburger” nights.
Best of luck and please add reputable labels below!

Source: Rx Primal Blog

Becky Davis

Becky Davis

Hello, I'm Becky! I'm here to help you make the Paleo diet an easy part of your daily life. With my quick recipes, tips, and strategies readers and clients add healthy practices and stick with them! To hear a little more about my background, check out the "About Me" section or find me on social media.

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