REPORTER: Speaking for the American Grassfed Association, you said,We feel very strongly that any grassfed standard must address the issue of confinement as an integral part of that standard: otherwise the label will lose its integrity.We have two issues at play – the feeding regimen and confinement. Why do you see them as integral to your definition of grassfed?
DR. WHISNANT: The USDA has chosen to address only the feeding regimen in its proposed standard. Yet, I do believe that the consumer would define the term “grassfed” to mean an animal raised on pasture. If passed into regulation as it now reads you could have animals raised in feedlots, fed harvested forage and corn silage, fed antibiotics, implanted with synthetic growth hormones and be legally labeled “Grass fed”. It would be taking the family farmed sustainable model and applying the same label to a factory farmed feedlot model. The feed yard need only change what is technically put in the trough. That is disingenuous to the consumer who would choose the product not just for the perceived healthiness but because they would support sustainable systems that they believe are more humane to the animal, more environmentally friendly and in support of local family farms.
As indication that these issues (feeding regimen and confinement) are linked look at the comments received by the USDA concerning the grass fed claim published in May 2006 and open for comment until August 10. In 2002 (80% standard) the USDA received 367 comments. They have received over 19,000 comments on the current proposal. Of these comments 3,848 addressed the confinement issue, 19,251 addressed access to pasture, 15,388 addressed grain supplementation, and 546 addressed the use of antibiotics or hormones.
I strongly feel the need to address this issue now. The USDA is trying to help farmers who practice specific verifiable management to market that product as such and to help consumers who would purchase the product to clearly know that they are getting what they believe the term means. The minimum requirements and loose interpretation for “Natural” have killed the term. It no longer has the ability to correctly connect farm and table. I do not want to see this happen to “Grass fed” because both farmer and consumer lose.