Better beef: New USDA grass-fed rules will benefit consumers and the environment

October 23, 2007

October 16, 2007

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today announced new rules for labeling meat from grass-fed livestock that will benefit the environment and public health, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The rules stipulate that meat labeled “grass fed” must come from animals fed solely on grasses, hay and other non-grain vegetation.

“This rule will help consumers choose meat from ‘smart pasture operations’ that are better for the environment,” said Dr. Margaret Mellon, director of the Food and Environment Program at UCS. “Unlike massive confined animal feeding operations, these farms use sophisticated land management practices to maximize productivity without despoiling our air, water and soil.”

Raising livestock on pastures avoids the crowding and illnesses that plague livestock in confined animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Modern grass-fed methods are also more cost-effective and environmentally friendly because they take advantage of low-cost grasses that typically require little added water, and few or no synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. A growing number of farmers across the country are now turning to this modern approach to livestock production.

Additionally, grass-fed beef is better for public health, Mellon, a biologist, added. A 2006 UCS report found that meat from grass-fed cattle contains higher levels of beneficial fats that may prevent heart disease and strengthen the immune system than meat from cattle raised in CAFOs. The study also found that grass-fed meat is often leaner than CAFO meat.

The USDA issued the new rules after years of deliberation and thousands of public comments urging the agency to establish a label with clear standards and definitions. The rule becomes effective on November 15, paving the way for producers to apply to use the grass-fed label. Producers that use the label must submit documentation to the USDA verifying their adherence to the grass-only dietary requirement. Consumers may be able to find USDA grass-fed labels on meat packaging in local grocery stores by the end of next year.

“We applaud the USDA for giving consumers a clear choice,” said Mellon. “This new label will allow the market for grass-fed products to continue to grow, and will clearly benefit human health and the environment.”  



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