Making Sense of Certifications

There are so many food products on the grocery store shelves these days. You can buy grass-fed meat, USDA grass-fed beef, USDA certified grass-fed beef, Food Alliance Grass-fed Certified meat, and American Grass-fed meat. So, what’s the difference between all of them?

Essentially, if you are buying a product that says “grass-fed” the producer is voluntarily choosing to feed their animals only grass after weaning. If it says USDA grass-fed, the producer is processing their meat in a USDA certified processing facility.  Private certifications add some additional assurance and information about exactly where the animals are being raised. You might like the assurance of a private labels, if you do not know much about the farm or farmer who you are buying from. However, these certifications are often less accessible to smaller producers due to cost

To sell a product as “grass-fed” a producer must register with the USDA and go through an audit process. The USDA explains the options this way

Q: Could you please clarify the differences in the statements USDA Certified Grass Fed, USDA Grass Fed and Grass Fed as to what documentation or certification is required to use the claim on a label?

USDA Answer: To use the Grass Fed label, you can present your certificate to a USDA slaughter facility and you can get the meat products from those animals labeled as Grass Fed. If you want to use the label USDA Certified Grass Fed or USDA Grass Fed (which involves the USDA name, or the USDA backing that claim) then that facility must have a QSA (quality system assessment) program with us to where we audit that facility, then FSIS (food safety and inspection service) will allow labels to be used such as USDA Grass Fed or USDA Certified Grass Fed on those products.

USDA Certified Grass-fedEven small and very small producers can be certified (49 cattle or fewer) USDA grass-fed certified. It is a voluntary certification process that includes an application fee and an audit. There are so many details – if you want to know more, check out the FAQs.

Food Alliance Grass-fed Certified  - This private certification expands on the USDA grass-fed certification, which focuses primarily on what animals eat, to include assurance that animals have never been treated with growth hormones or antibiotics, that they have been treated humanely, and that the environment has been protected.

American Grass-fed AssociationThis private certification addresses animal diet, animal shelter, medical treatment, land management and location of farm. The grass-fed standards can be applied to beef, bison, goat, lamb and sheep. The producers are audited annually.