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Understanding AMS’ Withdrawal of Two Voluntary Marketing Claim Standards

Cattle grazing with clouds behind them

USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service 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.

Last week, USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) announced that effective January 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); or
  • 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.

If anyone has any additional questions, please feel free to contact AMS at AMSPublicAffairs@ams.usda.gov.

6 Responses to “Understanding AMS’ Withdrawal of Two Voluntary Marketing Claim Standards”

  1. tamsen young says:

    This a GIANT step backward and not in line with what consumers want. The USDA is supposed to set standards, regulations, and guidelines to HELP consumers, not confuse them. To say that rescinding the grass-fed standard has no effect is simply FALSE! The labeling standard for grass fed meat was developed over the course of four years and finalized, with the support of national farm and consumer organizations including NSAC, in 2006. But what this shows is how clearly the government is not in a role to assist and protect consumers, rather it’s role is to enact or rescind legislation that doesn’t support the self-interest and obfuscating agendas of big-ag.

  2. Grace says:

    I think what producers must submit their proposed label with supporting documentation for approval to USDA’s Food Safety.
    How will I know that all labeling on packages of beef are truthful and not misleading?
    Grace

  3. Jan says:

    Shame on the USDA! Consumers sold down the river again. GREED RULES!

  4. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Tamsen and @Jan – thanks for your comments. USDA strives to ensure that consumers understand all marketing claims found on meat labels. The voluntary USDA grass-fed marketing claim standard was simply another option for producers to market their livestock. In order to use a grass-fed claim, producers must apply to and meet USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) requirements for grass-fed meat – this has not changed. When submitting a label for review, producers could identify the voluntary USDA grass-fed standard, an industry or association standard, or attest to their livestock’s production methods. USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s (AMS) role is to facilitate the marketing of agricultural products, and AMS can still verify production claims through USDA’s Process Verified Program or another USDA-Certified program. Producers still have many options to use grass-fed labels on their products, and consumers can still find grass-fed products in the marketplace.

  5. Ben [USDA Moderator] says:

    @Grace – thanks for your comment. Grass-fed labels must be submitted to USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) for review to ensure the labels are truthful and not misleading prior to use. This means that all producers, slaughter and/or processing facilities seeking to use a grass-fed label must submit supporting documentation to FSIS to support their grass-fed claim.

  6. Mike Jones says:

    Our Angus cows never ever are fed any grain, antibiotics, no added hormones We sale beef locally. We encourage our customers to visit the farm for a tour. My suggestion is consumers find a local farm and buy from them.

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