Volume 17, Number 4
of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agricultural Information Service: A project
of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT). This issue of ATTRAnews is available online.
and Dairy Production
Many small- and mid-size livestock ranchers are looking
for ways to differentiate their products in the marketplace.
Consumer demand for grass-fed beef and dairy products is
growing as people learn about the health benefits. Pasture-based
production has many advantages for ranchers, for
livestock, for communities and for ecosystems. In this issue,
we compare the production standards of three commonly
used grass-fed livestock labels.
In this issue:
What Do the Various Grass Fed Labels Stand for?
Photo courtesy of USDA NRCS.
Jeff Schahczenski, NCAT Program Specialist
Label claims can create confusion for consumers and producers
in niche beef markets. Producers are unsure about which
new market will best serve their interests. Consumers find it
difficult to understand how best to exercise their consumer
vote. Compounding the confusion, the USDA offers several
different label claims for meat.
Private entities are free to create any label claim they wish and
can ask the USDA for authorization of a label claim. However,
such label claims require ample documentation of the truth of
the claim before it is granted. The use of such a claim opens the
user to possible litigation if a competitor wishes to dispute the
truthfulness of the claim.
Through a USDA program called the Process Verifi ed Program,
private companies can also have their claims authenticated by
an unbiased third party. This USDA-sanctioned label is not often used by alternative marketers of livestock because of the expense and the complex paperwork required for application.
To learn more, see processverified.usda.gov
Trade associations may create trademarks or label claims
that members of their association can attach to their product. A
good example of this approach to product differentiation is a
label created by the American Grassfed Association (AGA). Learn
more about the label at www.americangrassfed.org. This association
trademark is only for AGA members. It is a third-party verified
trademark and the verification is done by the Food Alliance,
www.foodalliance.org. Again, this label claim has to be approved
by the USDA. Although this is a trade association trademark,
any private entity could create a similar individual trademark.
To learn more about these programs and related ATTRA studies,
contact Jeff Schahczenski, firstname.lastname@example.org, (406) 494-8636.
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Comparing Standards for Meat Production
USDA Agricultural Marketing Service Grass Fed, American Grassfed Association, USDA National
Summarized by NCAT program specialist Ann Baier
||USDA AMS Grass Fed—2007
||American Grassfed Association
Grassfed Ruminant —2009
||USDA National Organic Program (NOP)
||Certification is not
required to use a grass fed
claim. The standard
||Certification to American Grassfed Association
(AGA) standards is required in order
to represent product using the American
Grassfed Association logo and marks.
||Certification by a USDA-accredited certifier is required of all operations using
the organic claim on label. Certification
involves an application, Organic System
Plan, recordkeeping and initial/annual
inspections to verify compliance with
National Organic Standards.
||Animals “must have continuous
access to pasture
during the growing season”
(between the average
dates of the last spring
frost and the fi rst fall frost
in the local area).
||“Grass and forage shall be the feed source
consumed for the lifetime of the ruminant
animal, with the exception of milk consumed
prior to weaning.” Livestock must
be on range, pasture or paddocks for their
||Livestock must maintain living conditions
to accommodate the health and natural
behavior of animals, including access
to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise
areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable
to the species, its stage of production, the
climate, and the environment; and pasture
||Livestock must not be confined to a feedlot
or other area where forages or crops
are not grown during the growing season.
They may be fed hay, haylage, silage, crop
residue without grain, and other roughage
sources while on pasture in bad weather
or when forage is poor. Animals cannot be
fed stockpiled forage in confi nement for
more than 30 days per year.
||Producers may provide temporary
confinement for an animal because of
inclement weather; the animal’s stage of
production; conditions under which the
health, safety, or well-being of the animal
could be jeopardized; and risk to soil or
water quality. Shelter must provide for
comfort behaviors, exercise, and
reduction of potential for injury.
||Forage is any edible herbaceous
plant material that
can be grazed or harvested
for feeding, except grain.
||“The diet shall be derived solely from
forage consisting of grass (annual and
perennial), forbs (e.g. legumes, brassica),
browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative
||Forage is vegetative material in a fresh,
dried, or ensiled state (pasture, hay, or
silage) which is fed to livestock.
||Hay, haylage, baleage,
silage, crop residue without
grain, and other
roughage. Crops normally
harvested for grain must
be foraged or harvested in
the pre-grain state.
||Any feed high (over 20%) in crude fiber
and low (under 60%) in total digestible
nutrients, on an air-dry basis. Must be
from AGA list of approved feed materials.
||Total feed ration composed of agricultural
products, including pasture and
forage, that are certified to be organically
||Grain or grain by-products,
cottonseed and cottonseed
meal, soybean and
soybean meal, non-protein
nitrogen sources such as
urea and animal by-products.
||Animals cannot be fed grain or grain
by-products (starch and protein sources),
or any animal by-products.
||Non organic feed; animal drugs including
growth hormones; feed supplements,
additives more than needed for adequate
health; plastic pellets for roughage;
feed formulas containing urea or
manure; mammalian or poultry slaughter
by-products; feed, feed additives, and
feed supplements violating the Federal
Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.
forage & feed
||Not directly addressed.
||Crop production including pasture
management must comply with USDA
NOP standards for crop production.
Prohibited are most synthetic fertilizers,
herbicides or pesticides, and all use of
genetically modified organisms, sewage
sludge, or ionizing radiation.
||Milk or milk replacer is
||Milk is allowed before weaning, but the
source is not directly addressed.
||Organic mother’s milk or organic milk
replacer is allowed.
and vitamin supplementation
be included in the
||Approved mineral and vitamin
supplements may be provided free
choice to adjust the animal’s nutrient
intake. Supplements must be
approved in advance by AGA.
||Approved: vitamins, minerals, protein, amino acids, fatty
acids, energy sources, and fiber (ruminants). Feed supplements
or additives must not exceed amounts needed
for adequate health at animal’s specific stage of life.
||Parasiticides are not allowed in slaughter stock. Nonroutine
use is allowed in breeder stock during the last
third of gestation and in dairy stock more than 90 days
prior to the production of organic milk.
||Living conditions must support
humane animal welfare, handling,
transport, and slaughter. Sick or
injured animals must be treated to
relieve their symptoms.
||Preventive health care practices are required, including:
suitable species for the site and conditions; sufficient
feed ration; appropriate housing, pasture conditions,
sanitation to minimize diseases and parasites;
conditions that allow exercise, freedom of movement,
reduction of stress; vaccines; medical treatment for sick
animals despite loss of organic status.
||All records are to be maintained for
a minimum of two years after the
animal is sold or harvested. Records
must show how and when supplements
are provided, with receipts
and ingredient lists. Records must
show the source of all purchased
market animals brought onto the
farm or ranch and that they were
raised according to AGA Grassfed
Ruminant Standards. Only market
animals 1 year of age or younger
may be brought into the program
by affidavit. Animals must be traceable
by written record throughout
their entire lives to their farm of
origin. Producers must maintain
an animal identification system to
identify each animal and allow 48-
||Producers must maintain records concerning the production
(land management and feed production or
sourcing, health care, all materials used), harvesting,
and handling of agricultural products. Records must
be: complete enough to fully disclose all activities
and transactions in sufficient detail as to be readily
understood and audited; maintained for not less than
5 years beyond their creation; available for inspection.
Livestock products must be from livestock under
continuous organic management from the last third
of gestation. Origin and identity of livestock must be
traceable from gestation through slaughter and sale.
Livestock treated with a prohibited substance must be
clearly identified and shall not be sold, labeled, or represented
as organically produced.
||Prohibited. No hormones of any
type may be administered.
||Prohibited. See other prohibited substances above.
||Prohibited. Animals must not be fed
or injected antibiotics.
||Prohibited. Animals treated for humane reasons may
not be sold as organic.
These standards were summarized for comparison purposes only. For accurate details, see the following:
American Grassfed Association Standards
USDA AMS Grass Fed Standards
USDA National Organic Program (NOP) Standards
- Electronic Code of Federal Regulations. 7 CFR Part 205 includes complete standards for
crop and livestock production, handling, certification and inspection.
- Also see ATTRA’s Organic Standards for Livestock Production: Highlights of the USDA’s National Organic Program Regulations
- The NOP is engaged in rulemaking to provide greater detail for selected provisions of the NOP livestock regulations, especially as they
relate to pasture and ruminant animals. Although it is not yet part of the rule, several organic dairy and trade associations have expressed
their support for the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) Livestock Committee Recommendation for Guidance on Pasture Requirements
for the NOP which was adopted by the NOSB on Aug. 16, 2005.
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Pasture, Forage, and
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Beef Cattle Resources
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Dairy Cattle Resources
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ATTRA Publications about Beef and Dairy Production and Grass Farming
Beef and Dairy Production
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New and Updated Publications from ATTRA
New in both English and Spanish:
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ATTRAnews is the bi-monthly newsletter of ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. The newsletter is distributed free throughout the United States to farmers, ranchers, Cooperative Extension agents, educators, and others interested in sustainable agriculture. ATTRA is funded through the USDA Rural Business-Cooperative Service and is a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), a private, non-profit organization that since 1976 has helped people by championing small-scale, local and sustainable solutions to reduce poverty, promote healthy communities, and protect natural resources.
Teresa Maurer, Project Manager
Karen Van Epen, Editor
Mary Ann Thom, e-newsletter production
Comments? Questions? Email the Weekly Harvest Newsletter editor Karen Van Epen at
ATTRA - National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service
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Fayetteville, AR 72702
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