Look for these seals, for programs with strong standards for 100% grass fed and on-farm inspection:

PCO Certified 100% Grassfed

The PCO Certified 100% Grassfed seal means that the animals were raised on certified organic farms, and in addition, where fed only grass and forage with no grain. Organic regulations prohibit administering antibiotics, hormones and growth promotants, treating pasture with synthetic herbicides, planting genetically engineered plants such as alfalfa in pasture, and much more. This seal means the “grass fed” claim was verified, including through on-farm inspection.

Read our PCO Certified 100% Grassfed review.

American Grassfed

The American Grassfed seal means that the animals were grass-fed throughout their entire lives (after weaning), with no grain ever. The animals had continuous access to pasture and were not raised in confinement. The standards also prohibit antibiotics, growth hormones and growth promotants, and the intentional feeding of GMOs. This seal means the “grass fed” claim was verified, including through on-farm inspection.

Read our American Grassfed review.

Certified Grassfed by AGW

The Certified Grassfed by AGW seal means that the animals producing meat or dairy with the label were fed a 100% grass and forage based diet, with no grain. Certification for this label is only granted to producers who are also certified to the species-specific Animal Welfare Approved label standards. This seal means the “grass fed” claim was verified, including through on-farm inspection.

Read our Certified Grassfed by AGW review

NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed

The NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed seal means that the animals used to produce meat and dairy were raised on certified organic farms, and in addition, meat animals must be fed 100% grass or grass-based feed for the entire life of the animal with the exception of milk prior to weaning. Dairy cows must be managed on 100% grass or grass-based feeds for at least 90 days before being eligible to sell milk as NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed. Organic regulations prohibit administering antibiotics, hormones and growth promotants, treating pasture with synthetic herbicides, planting genetically engineered plants such as alfalfa in pasture, and much more. This seal means the “grass fed” claim was verified, including through on-farm inspection.

Read our NOFA-NY Certified 100% Grass Fed review.

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Don't rely on these seals:

USDA Process Verified

This seal can be used to provide verification for the “grass fed” claim. Producers making a “grass fed” claim can choose to have this claim verified by the Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS, an agency at the U.S. Department of Agriculture) through its Process Verified Program. As of November 2016, only one producer of grass fed beef has its “grass fed” claim verified through the USDA Process Verified Program. The USDA Process Verified Program allows producers to write their own standard; the “grass fed” standard for this producer is: “All animals in the program have been grown, raised and fattened on a grass (forage) diet.”

Read our USDA Process Verified review.

 

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What this claim means

The term “grass fed” implies that the animals used to produce meat and dairy were fed only grass. Even though grass and grass-based forage is the natural diet of ruminants, such as beef cattle, bison, sheep and dairy cows, most animals are fed grain to speed up their weight gain and increase milk production. Beef and dairy products from cattle that were fed a 100% grass-based diet have important nutritional benefits, and feeding only grass has important benefits for animal health as well.

Meat. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees labeling claims on meat, has defined the “grass fed” claim for producers who make the claim on their label. As a labeling claim on meat, “grass fed” means the cows were only (100%) fed grass after being weaned from their mother’s milk. The diet must be derived solely from forage, and animals cannot be fed grain or grain by-products and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season until slaughter. Forage consists of grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources. Routine mineral and vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. If incidental supplementation occurs due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal’s wellbeing at all times during adverse environmental or physical conditions, the producer should provide a signed and dated document to the establishment attesting the above incident is not a routine occurrence. The establishment should include this information as part of the labeling documentation verifying the product the meets the grass fed claim.

Dairy. The Food and Drug Administration, which oversees labeling of dairy products, has no definition and does not set a common standard for producers who make a “grass fed” claim on their label. “Grass fed” on the label of dairy products therefore does not necessarily mean 100% grass fed. Some companies making a “grass fed” labeling claim on dairy products feed grain in addition to grass.

 

Why it matters

Beef and dairy cattle are ruminants, and their digestive systems have evolved to digest high-fiber and low-starch grasses. They gain weight more rapidly when they are fed grain in addition to grass, which has become standard practice in the beef and dairy industries, but grain-feeding comes at a cost to the nutritional value of the meat and dairy they produce, and the animals’ health.

Nutritional benefits

Studies suggest that there are important health benefits from consuming 100% grass fed meat and dairy compared with grain fed meat and dairy. Studies have found that, compared to grain fed alternatives, grass fed meat contains lower levels of overall fat and higher levels of vitamins and antioxidants; grass fed meat and dairy have also been found to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which appear to provide health benefits.

Animal health benefits

Ruminants on a grass-based diet without grain are less likely to suffer from gastrointestinal disorders such as acidosis. With acute acidosis, the acidity level and glucose levels in the animal’s intestines increase markedly due to grain consumption, leading to damage to the intestinal wall or other health conditions.

Another health effect of a high-grain diet for cattle is a higher rate of liver abscesses. For prevention of liver abscesses in grain fed cattle, the FDA has approved numerous antibiotics that can be added to cattle feed – the same grain-based feed that is often contributing to the abscesses in the first place. Antibiotics approved for this purpose include the critically important antibiotics tylosin, ceftiofur, virginiamycin and chlortetracycline. A sustainable way to prevent liver abscesses is to promote healthy animals with a species-appropriate diet of grass and forage.

 

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Can you trust the claim? Is it verified?

Meat. The verification requirements for the "grass fed" claim on meat labels are weak. Labels on meat and poultry are regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). On meat labels, producers can make a “grass fed” claim after submitting a one-time label application with the USDA, with required documentation to support that the “grass fed” claim means the animals were not given any grain. However, there is no requirement for on-farm inspections and no requirement for annual review or auditing of the producer’s records to ensure compliance.

To obtain approval for the label, producers that make a “grass fed” claim on the label have to submit written documentation including:

  • A detailed written description explaining controls for ensuring that the raising claim is valid from birth to harvest or the period of raising being referenced by the claim; (e.g., controls to ensure cattle that are supposed to be raised 100% grass fed are not fed grains);
  • A signed and dated document describing the diet of the animals to support that the claims are not false or misleading;
  • A written description of the product tracing and segregation mechanism from time of slaughter or further processing through packaging and wholesale or retail distribution; and
  • A written description for the identification, control, and segregation of nonconforming animals/product.

No additional verification or on-farm inspection is required for producers making a “grass fed” claim.

Dairy. No. Labels on dairy products are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which requires no verification or on-farm inspection for dairy producers making a “grass fed” labeling claim.