I wanted to share a couple of responses I got from two different farmers that raise pastured cattle. The question was, are your cattle on grass all their lives, and what is the definition of grass fed vs grass finished"?
The only exception is January through early March due to our location in NE Missouri and the Winter mother provides. During that period hay is fed to get the animals through the Winter period.
The definitions of the two terms changed in October 2003. Grass-fed now means 80% of animals life on grass and 20% on another feed source. This will enable Tyson to sell grass-fed beef that has been corn the last 140 days of it's life just like the other 96% of the cattle in the U.S. Grass finished now means that the animal spent the last 100 days of it life on forage. This issue will require vigilance on the part of the consumer as true grass-fed/finished beef hits 5% market share. Then the Tyson's will come out of the woodwork and make an effort trick consumers.
Hope this does not confuse you further as we appreciate your diligence.
Here is what I think I know about the situation:
1. Last year the USDA put out a "label claim" regulation change for public comment prior to actual implementation. That regulation change would have defined "grass fed" as "80% of animals life on grass". This would make ALL beef "grass fed" since it exactly matches the life cycle of a calf being born and raised in a pasture and sent to a feedlot for the last few months of its life. I don't have the exact language. During the public comment period, there was an outcry from real grass fed beef producers against the regulation change. Due to the vocal negative response, the regulation change was pulled and not implemented at that time.
2. For Rehoboth Ranch, our label claim of "grass fed" was approved for our custom label by the appropriate office in Washington, D.C. back in 2000 before any effort had been made to include it into the regulations. Our approval was based on a "grass fed protocol" that I have on file with the USDA and our processor who applies the labels to the packages at processing time. The USDA inspector at our processor checks our animals when we bring them in to see if they appear to meet our protocol. This spring our first load of steers were so fat from grass alone that the inspector accused me of feeding them grain. I told him they had gained over 2.5 lbs. per day on rye grass, clovers, hairy vetch and singletary peas since January. He apparently didn't believe me because the processor told me that after I left, he cut open the stomachs of the steers to try and prove that I was feeding grain to get cattle that fat. Of course, he didn't find any grain or evidence of any since they had never had any grain, syrup, cube, etc. A side note...as with the organic certification, if someone wanted to cheat, he could. There is no fool proof system. Consumers can only rely on the integrity of the individual producer or the integrity of the giant mega-corporations.
3. I have not followed the chronology of the subsequent events closely since the proposed label claim regulations were pulled back. But, I think that the American Grass Fed Assn. took the challenge to come up with a proposed set of label claim regulations to present to the USDA. If you want to dig deeper, I would recommend contacting them at www.americangrassfed.org
and asking if the grassfed definitions they have posted on their web site are the definitions that USDA is working into the label claim regulations. They have the same definition as my grass fed protocol..."A Certified Grassfed Ruminant is an animal who has received only herbaceous plant material and/or mothers milk (without confinement) as its entire food source, other than acceptable mineral and vitamin supplementation, and no grain or grain by-products (100% of diet) for its entire life." I just don't know what the status of the USDA regulatory process is right now.
Hope this helps, even if I didn't have the complete answer.
Have a great week and pray for rain.
Based on the above responses, I think I need more information.