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Sustainable Ag Group: USDA's Latest Move Could Hurt Some ND Meat Producers

A sustainable-agriculture advocacy group says the USDA's decision to rescind grass-fed labels is a step back for consumers and meat producers. (Morguefile.com/mensatic)
A sustainable-agriculture advocacy group says the USDA's decision to rescind grass-fed labels is a step back for consumers and meat producers. (Morguefile.com/mensatic)
January 13, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced that it will stop using labels for grass-fed and naturally raised livestock. The department's Agricultural Marketing Service said it is no longer using those labels because it never had the authority to enforce them in the first place.

The AMS maintained that power falls under the Food Safety and Inspection Service, but Ferd Hoefner, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said the move eventually could create confusion both for people who buy meat and the livestock farmers who produce it.

"Farmers who did the work to create the grass-fed market could see their market undercut by unscrupulous companies who are not actually grass feeding their animals benefiting from the marketplace," he said.

North Dakota farmers who have been using the USDA grass-fed labels will have 30 days to switch to an alternative private grass-fed standard. This move comes about a month after Congress voted to remove country-of-origin labeling from meat sold in the United States.

Hoefner said the grass-fed label was approved in 2006 after years of talks between farmers and consumer groups, but according to supporters of the label, it brought consistency and transparency to consumers who are concerned about how their meat is raised. Now, Hoefner said, he believes the USDA simply is passing the buck on to the Food Safety and Inspection Service, which may or may not adopt a similar label standard.

"What we're doing is asking the Food Safety and Inspection Service to go ahead and set that national standard," he said, "and set it at exactly what the AMS standard has said since 2006."

Hoefner warned that creating "new, non-uniform standards" could lead to the term "grass-fed" becoming meaningless for consumers. He also urged any affected farmers to participate in a conference call with the AMS on Thursday morning.

The USDA's grass-fed rule is online at ams.usda.gov.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND