Tuesday, January 12, 2016

USDA bows out of labeling

What’s naturally-raised beef?

What’s grass-fed beef?

The United States Department of Agriculture has decided it can’t define and enforce standards, so is scapping its standards for those label claims.

 Specifically, the department’s Agriculture Marketing Service is withdrawing the Grass (Forage) Fed Claim for Ruminant Livestock and the Meat Products Derived from Such Livestock (Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard); and the Naturally Raised Claim for Livestock and the Meat and Meat Products Derived From Such Livestock (Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard).

These AMS standards were originally published in the Federal Register on May 12, 2006.

AMS explained in a news release that it had determined the Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standards services do not fit within the agency’s statutory authorities. 

Applicants often seek to market the USDA-verified marketing claim on a food product label. To do so for meat products, the company must receive pre-approval from the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS).

“The existence of these AMS standards created more confusion than they helped,” Deputy Administrator Craig Morris told Meatingplace magazine.

While the AMS acts as a third party to verify that producers are adhering to their own standards on about 190 other various claims, the agency had only set its own standards on grass-fed and naturally raised.

Further, even producers who adhered to the AMS “naturally raised” standard were not able to come up with appropriate labels that were not confusing or misleading to consumers, so FSIS was not able to approve labels based on that standard.

Farmers are not happy.

“Meat labeling just became even more confusing for farmers and consumers,” said Fred Heffner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

“USDA is revoking a label standard that had widespread farm and consumer support. Actions such as this take us into a Wild West situation, where anything goes and both farmers and consumers lose.”

The change will have little impact on the six grass-fed meat companies currently labeling their meat (with FSIS approval) that are based on the now-defunct AMS standard.

These companies can now simply use their own standard and AMS will continue to act as a third party to verify whether or not they are meeting that standard. The option of using the AMS standard was always voluntary.