Last week, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that effective Jan. 12, 2016, the agency withdrew two voluntary marketing claim standards — the Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard and the Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard.
The Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard has never been used by anyone. What does the announcement really mean to grass-fed beef producers and consumers? The honest answer is nothing.
Consumers and beef producers alike can be assured, AMS still strongly supports the nation's grass-fed beef industry by serving as an independent verifier of various grass-fed beef marketing programs, and by providing timely market reports that help producers better understand the value of grass-fed cattle and beef.
AMS continually reviews the services it provides and determined that these marketing claim standards did not fit within the agency's statutory mandate. Without express authority from Congress – as with the National Organic Program – AMS does not have the authority to define labeling standards and determine if marketing claims are truthful and not misleading. Therefore, it is inappropriate for the agency to offer these as AMS-defined marketing claims.
Producers/establishments still have many options to label their products as grass-fed. They can:
· Continue to use the AMS-defined standard until their current AMS certificate expires.
· Convert the Grass Fed Marketing Claim Standard into their own standard or develop their own grass-fed standard (which AMS can verify through USDA's Process Verified Program or another USDA-Certified program).
· Operate under another recognized grass-fed standard.
The USDA Grass Fed Small and Very Small Producer Program (SVS) administered by AMS will remain intact, and no action is necessary from producers that participate in the program. All grass-fed beef verified by AMS using USDA's Process Verified Program or another USDA-Certified auditing process will still have the objective industry-defined grass-fed standard detailed on our website.
Producers that want to include grass-fed claims on their packaging must submit their proposed label with supporting documentation for approval to USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) – just as they have always done. FSIS reviews the label's grass-fed claim and supporting documentation to determine if the producer can support their claim. FSIS, not AMS, is charged with ensuring that all labeling claims – such as grass-fed – on packages of beef are truthful and not misleading.
We understand this is a complicated issue, and that is why AMS hosted a stakeholder call to discuss this in more detail. But, bottom line, there really isn't anything different with regard to AMS' commitment to the grass-fed beef industry or the truthfulness behind the various grass-fed beef marketing programs. Producers still have many options to use grass-fed labels on their products, and consumers can still find grass-fed products in the marketplace.
Morris is the deputy aAdministrator for USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service.