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The Who, What, and How's of Labels

All animal raising claims including, Grass-fed and Raised without the use of antibiotics need to be approved by the FSIS.
All animal raising claims including, Grass-fed and Raised without the use of antibiotics need to be approved by the FSIS.
In order to sell beef with a label bearing an animal raising claim the label must first be submitted to the Office of Policy and Program Development, Labeling and Program Delivery Staff (LPDS), in Food Saftey and Inspection Services (FSIS), and include all necessary documentation to support the special statement or claim. Examples of animal-raising claims include but are not limited to: ‘‘Vegetarian-fed,’’ ‘‘Grassfed,’’ and ‘‘Raised without the use of antibiotics”. To veiw specific documentation needed to file for a label through FSIS click here.


Grass-fed and Grass-finished

What is considered grass-fed?
In order to reduce the confusion of grass-fed labels, in 2019 the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service issued new guidance for grass-fed beef labels.  Beef can now only be labeled as grass-fed if it received grass for 100% of its life, from weaning to harvest. In addition, cattle must have  access to pasture before slaughter and cannot be confined.  However, if the products from animals have less than 100 percent access to grass or forage, the producer can still use a partial “grass-fed” label as long as the consumer is informed about the proportion of the animal’s diet coming from grain. For example, a partial grass-fed label could be “Made from cows that are fed 90% grass and 10% corn.’’
Is grass-fed the same as grass-finished?
Grass-fed is not the same as grass-finished
Grass-fed is not the same as grass-finished
According to the new FSIS labeling claims grass-finished is not the same  as grass-fed.  Grass-finished animals can receive grain during their lifetime opposed to grass-fed animals which cannot receive grain.  Therefore, the label claim “Grain Fed, Grass Finished” would be truthful and not misleading.
Is there a USDA grass-fed certification?
As of January 12, 2016, the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), a division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), withdrew their Grass- fed Marketing Claim for ruminant livestock (including cattle, lamb, goat and buffalo) and any meat products derived from these animals. While there is currently no USDA grass-fed marketing claim, producers can still receive grass-fed certifications by obtaining their own label through the FSIS or through third parties.


How can I get my own grass-fed certification label?
Producers can file for a grass-fed labeling standard through the FSIS. For further instructions please click here.
How can I get my grass-fed certified through a third party?
Producers can also choose to obtain grass fed certification from an existing third party service. These include American Grassfed, the Food Alliance, and Animal Welfare Approved.  Each of these organizations have specific standards for their label. Costs associated with third party labeling depends on the individual organization. Below are links to third party grass-fed beef websites.

Natural, Never-ever, and Organic

What is the USDA definition of natural?
According to the USDA "All fresh meat qualifies as "natural." Products labeled "natural" cannot contain any artificial flavor or flavoring, coloring ingredient, chemical preservative, or any other artificial or synthetic ingredient; and the product and its ingredients are not more than minimally processed (ground, for example). All products claiming to be natural should be accompanied by a brief statement which explains what is meant by the term "natural."  It is important to note that natural claim does not include animal raising claims (i.e hormone free, raised without the use of antibiotics, 100% vegetarian, or grass-fed).
What does never-ever mean, and is there a USDA never-ever program?
The NE3 (Never-ever 3) program was developed in 2009 as a bundled marketing claim and associated verification program to address a market need for livestock whose products would qualify for marketing claims of: 1. No Antibiotics administered; 2. No Hormones administered; and 3. No Animal By-products fed at any point in the animal's life. However, this USDA program was rescinded in 2015.  Despite the retraction of this program, many third-party labels (i.e. American Grassfed) have antibiotic and hormone usage standards as part of their label claim.  If a consumer is looking for products that have not received hormones or antibiotics for the time the animal was raised they should look for specific labels stating raised without antibiotics or hormones.


The official USDA Organic label
The official USDA Organic label
What is organic?
According the the USDA, “USDA certified organic foods are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical, or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible”.

Organic meat has additional organic standards and requires that animals are raised in living conditions accommodating their natural behaviors (like the ability to graze on pasture), fed 100% organic feed and forage, and not administered antibiotics or hormones.



Animal Welfare and GMO Labels

Is there a USDA label for animal welfare?

Animal raising claims related to how the animal is cared for how the relationship to how they are produced related to their environment are not defined by the FSIS in either regulations or policy guidelines.  For animal welfare claims, such as “Raised with Care,” or environmental stewardship claims, such as “Sustainably Raised,” FSIS will only approve a claim if a statement is provided on the label showing the name of the entity that established the standard and includes additional terminology explaining the meaning of the claim for consumers.  As an alternative, animal welfare and environmental stewardship claims can be certified by a third-party certifying organization that posts the standards used to define the claim on its website.

One of the larger third-party labels that focuses on animal welfare is Certified Humane. For a list of their standards please click here.

What is the non-GMO Label and how do I acquire one?
The Non-GMO label is a third party label implemented by the Non-GMO Project.  The Non-GMO project have their own set of industry standards which can be accessed here. For information regarding acquiring a Non-GMO Label click here