CHANGES announced last week in the US over regulatory requirements surrounding grassfed beef claims are likely to have little or no effect on Australian beef exports making grassfed or natural production claims.
That’s the opinion of Meat & Livestock Australia’s US office, following recent confusion in some US industry circles industry over the significance of recent regulatory pathway adjustments.
Last week, the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture Marketing Service announced that it has withdrawn label standards for grassfed and naturally-raised livestock label claims used in US livestock and meat marketing.
Specifically, the affected claims are the Grass (Forage) Fed Claim for Ruminant Livestock and the Meat Products Derived from Such Livestock (Grass (Forage) Fed Marketing Claim Standard); and the Naturally Raised Claim for Livestock and the Meat and Meat Products Derived From Such Livestock (Naturally Raised Marketing Claim Standard).
The way this was announced has unfortunately caused considerable confusion within industry, despite the limited impact, Beef Central understands.
In the short term, there is no direct impact from the decision on Australian grassfed brands in the market, MLA’s US region manager David Pietsch told Beef Central this morning.
“This notice of withdrawal is from AMS (Agricultural Marketing Service), a separate section of USDA to FSIS (Food Safety Inspection Service),” Mr Pietsch explained.
“FSIS handles all label pre-approvals, including grassfed claims, breed claims and other raising claims like no added HGP,” he said.
While FSIS requires evidence to back-up claims, AMS audits those supply chains that voluntarily wish to go further than that, and have a fully-audited USDA program. Other programs AMS audits and verifies include certified organic, and source-verified or process-verified programs (including Australia’s MSA which has USDA process-verified status).
Mr Pietsch said there was duplication with regards to grassfed claims within USDA. Almost all suppliers used the FSIS option, and AMS had decided to withdraw its grassfed and ‘naturally-raised’ standard to remove some confusion.
“Our understanding is that few were using the AMS alternative, and of those, almost all were domestic US brands that wanted additional audited verification of their process by AMS,” Mr Pietsch said.
Australian brands with current US label approvals from FSIS for grassfed, and those seeking future FSIS approval which could provide satisfactory evidence to back that claim should be unaffected, he said – provided nothing changes with FSIS’s current approach.
“That’s our understanding as of today,” Mr Pietsch said. “But we will certainly continue to monitor this and advise the industry in Australia of any change to their approach.”
In explaining its actions, AMS said it made the decision to withdraw the label claims after the agency determined that “certain services” didn’t fit within the agency’s statutory authority.
AMS said that applicants seeking to use the USDA-verified market claims for meat products must receive pre-approval from FSIS or meat standards set by the US Food and Drug Administration.
“The authority over production/marketing claim verification and food labelling approval presents challenges to companies wishing to market USDA-verified production/marketing claims on food labels, because there is no guarantee that a USDA-verified production/marketing claim will be approved by FSIS or FDA,” AMS said.
The agency added that it is not AMS’ role to define standards without express authority from Congress. That responsibility lay with FSIS.
“Because AMS does not have express authority to define grassfed or naturally-raised, it is inappropriate for the agency to offer it as an AMS-defined marketing claim,” the agency said.
“Instead, companies can use voluntary USDA-Certified or USDAVerified programs to verify compliance with standards that they develop.”
There were a few exceptions to the groups who would need to use an alternative labelling process, USDA said. One example was those raising grassfed cattle under the Small or Very Small (SVS) producer programs, which should not see any changes, and will continue to to be run by the AMS.
SVS exemptions are unlikely to affect any Australian exporters. These apply to farms that market no more than 49 cattle or the lambs from 99 ewes in a year.