Marian Burros has long been an advocate for sustainable farming as well as a champion of grassfed meats sourced directly from family farms.She called immediately after the USDA grassfed claim was published in the Federal Register.In that interview I explained the mixed feelings I had about what the claim stated.Following is a result of that conversation.
Published: October 19, 2007
The Department of Agriculture has announced standards that would for the first time allow meat to be labeled as grass fed only if it came from animals that ate nothing but grass after being weaned.
Grass-fed meat has become more popular and widely raised in the past few years. Many of those who buy it consider it better for the environment than meat from animals raised on grain in huge lots, and healthier, because it is believed to have higher levels of Omega-3 fats. Some people also find it tastier.
Until now, said Martin E. O’Connor, the department official who oversees regulation of livestock feed, use of the grass-fed label was unregulated. Early proposals during five years of discussion would have permitted it for animals that were fattened on grain in their final weeks.
But the trade association representing many raisers of grass-fed livestock,which has long sought regulation of labeling, criticized the standards,which were announced on Monday, because they do not restrict the use of antibiotics and hormones and do not require grass-fed animals to live on pastures year round.The group, the American Grassfed Association, said it would set up its own certification system.
The public perception is that grass-fed animals are on pasture, said Dr. Patricia Whisnant, a veterinarian and president of the association, they are not confined and are not given hormones or antibiotics.
In the notice of the standards filed on Tuesday in the Federal Register, the department indicated that most of the people who submitted comments on those issues believed that the animals should not be confined or given medication or hormones.
But Mr. O’Connor, chief of the standardization branch of the department’s livestock and feed program, said it was important to set standards on feed. He said rules about where animals were raised and what they might receive other than feed would be decided later.
The rules, which take effect Nov. 15, would require animals to eat nothing but grass and stored grasses like hay, and to have access to pasture during the growing season, which is defined as the time from last frost to first frost. In some places that could mean from as late as May to as early as October.
Dr. Whisnant said the animals could be confined for long periods of time because the definition of the growing season could keep animals off pasture even when there is plenty of grass. She said that even in winter animals could be fed hay and other stored grasses on pasture.
The new standards would require growers to have their farm and records inspected by the Agriculture Department before they could use a U.S.D.A. Process Verified seal. Meat could also be labeled as grass-fed, but without the seal, if the growers submit documents showing their animals were raised according to the standards.
The growers association certification would be based on more stringent standards that would require animals to be on pasture or rangeland all year long and be free of antibiotics or hormones. It will begin accepting requests for certification by the end of the year, working with Animal Welfare Approved, a national nonprofit certification organization.