The US Department of Agriculture is nixing its grass-fed standard, but they’re doing it for the most absurd reason imaginable. Action Alert!
Last week, the USDA announced it would be withdrawing its standard for the grass-fed meat label. The agency is giving producers who used the grass-fed label thirty days to (1) convert the current “grass-fed” standard, in which 99% of the animal’s feed must be from grass or forage, into their own private standard; (2) use some other “recognized grass-fed standard,” or else (3) develop a new, voluntary, grass-fed standard—whatever the company decides is fine with the USDA.
All of this is being implemented through the USDA’s Process Verified Program (PVP). As others have pointed out, PVP is not an inspection program intended to hold producers accountable to their claims, but rather a marketing program that allows producers to make their own claims about their products and slap a USDA logo on the label.
This is the same program that allows Perdue Foods, for example, to market their chickenas being “Humanely Raised,” “Raised Cage Free,” on an “All-Vegetarian Diet,” or with “No Animal By-Products.” The “Humanely Raised” label was such a sham that it drove a Perdue chicken farmer to start a campaign to stop the USDA from putting their stamp of approval on the company’s meat because consumers were, in the farmer’s words, being “hoodwinked.”
So if producers can create their own standard and call their product “grass-fed,” and if there are no labeling regulations, it could contain 80%, or even 50%, and the rest grain-fed. There is just no way to know.
How will all this play out? It would not surprise us if the USDA either made it too difficult for small producers to get approval of any label, or censored what they can say on the label. Remember that it wasn’t long ago that the USDA refused to allow meat producers to state that they had tested their cows for mad cow disease, even when they had. The USDA didn’t allow this because large meat producers did not want to test their cattle, and did not want to have to compete against those who did. Why have to compete when you can get the government to forbid competition? In the long run, competition is often an excellent regulator, but bought regulators all too often forbid it.
We have already seen the dilution of organic standards through industry influence. What if cows that are 50% grass-fed can use some kind of “grass-fed” label? We can only expect larger companies to abuse this system to the detriment of consumers and small farmers.
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Why is this happening? The official reasoning offered by the USDA is rather bizarre: the agency claims that, since a different USDA department, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), must approve meat labels, there is no guarantee that a USDA-approved marketing claim such as “grass-fed” will be approved by FSIS.
In plain English: because two departments under the same agency cannot coordinate, the grass-fed standard is being eliminated!
This is also one step away from eliminating a grass-fed claim altogether, which would be great for Big Ag—when consumers have less information to differentiate good from bad products, all the better for the companies producing low quality products.
Action Alert! While the withdrawal of the grass-fed standard is a done deal—it is not going through any formal rulemaking process in which the public can comment and register their concerns—please contact the USDA immediately and raise your voice in protest. Send your message immediately.