[Federal Register Volume 71, Number 92 (Friday, May 12, 2006)]
[Notices]
[Pages 27662-27665]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: E6-7276]


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DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE

Agricultural Marketing Service

[Docket No. LS-05-09]


United States Standard for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claim, 
Grass (Forage) Fed Claim

AGENCY: Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

ACTION: Notice and request for comments.

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SUMMARY: The Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) is soliciting 
comments on a revised proposed voluntary

[[Page 27663]]

standard for a grass (forage) fed marketing claim. This proposed 
standard incorporates revisions made as a result of comments received 
as a result of an earlier published proposed standard. A number of 
livestock producers make such claims in order to distinguish their 
products in the marketplace. Once a voluntary standard is established, 
livestock producers may request that a grass (forage) fed claim be 
verified by USDA. Verification of this claim will be accomplished 
through an audit of the production process by AMS.

DATES: Comments must be received on or before August 10, 2006.

ADDRESSES: Written comments, suggestions, and other input may be 
submitted to Martin E. O'Connor, Chief, Standardization Branch, 
Livestock and Seed Program, AMS, USDA, Room 2607-S, 1400 Independence 
Avenue, SW., Washington, DC 20250-0254. Comments may also be sent by 
facsimile to (202) 720-1112, by electronic mail to 
marketingclaim@usda.gov, or via the Internet at http://www.regulations.gov. Comments should refer to Docket No. LS-05-09. All 
comments received will be made available for public inspection at the 
above physical address during regular business hours (8 a.m.-4:30 p.m.) 
and will be posted on the Internet at http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/claim.htm. A copy of this proposed voluntary United States 
Standards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claim, Grass (Forage) Fed 
Claim, is available through the above physical address or by accessing 
the Web site at http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/st-pubs.htm.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Martin E. O'Connor, Chief, 
Standardization Branch, at (202) 720-4486.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: Section 203(c) of the Agricultural Marketing 
Act of 1946, as amended (7 U.S.C. 1622), directs and authorizes the 
Secretary of Agriculture ``To develop and improve standards of quality, 
condition, quantity, grade, and packaging, and recommend and 
demonstrate such standards in order to encourage uniformity and 
consistency in commercial practices.'' USDA is committed to carrying 
out this authority in a manner that facilitates the marketing of 
agricultural commodities. One way of achieving this objective is 
through the development and maintenance of voluntary standards by AMS.
    AMS is proposing this voluntary United States Standard for 
Livestock and Meat Marketing Claim, Grass (Forage) Fed Claim, in 
accordance with procedures that are contained in part 36 of Title 7 of 
the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR part 36).

Paperwork Reduction Act

    In accordance with the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1995 (PRA; 44 
U.S.C. 3501 et seq.), the information collection and recordkeeping 
requirements for the services associated with the grass (forage) fed 
marketing claim is approved under Office of Management and Budget (OMB) 
Control No. 0581-0124, which expires August 31, 2008.

Background

    Individuals and companies often highlight production and marketing 
practices in advertisements and promotions to distinguish their 
products in the marketplace. Since the late 1970s, livestock and meat 
producers (individuals and companies) have requested the voluntary 
services of USDA to verify or certify specific practices to increase 
the value of their products. One such production practice is the 
rearing of livestock on grasslands or forage products only.
    Since 1978, the Livestock and Seed (LS) Program, through the Meat 
Grading and Certification Branch, has provided certification, through 
direct product examination, for a number of producer claims related to 
livestock and/or carcass characteristics. The validity of such claims 
was enhanced since the product was ``USDA Certified.'' Since 1996, the 
LS Program, through the ARC Branch, has offered a verification service 
(http://processverified.usda.gov/) to substantiate claims that cannot 
be determined by direct examination of marketed product. The USDA 
Process Verified Program provides suppliers of agricultural products or 
services the opportunity to distinguish specific activities involved in 
the production and processing of their agricultural products and to 
assure customers of their ability to provide consistent quality 
products or services. This is accomplished by documenting the quality 
management program and having the manufacturing or service delivery 
processes verified through independent, third party audits. The USDA 
Process Verified Program allows suppliers to make marketing claims--
such as feeding practices or other raising and processing claims--and 
label and market their products as ``USDA Process Verified.''
    Product labels that include the grass (forage) fed marketing claim 
must be submitted to the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), 
Labeling and Consumer Protection Staff (LCPS), for evaluation prior to 
use. LCPS is USDA's regulatory authority on domestic and imported meat, 
poultry, and egg product labeling, standards, and ingredients. The LS 
Program has worked closely with LCPS to develop the proposed voluntary 
grass (forage) fed marketing claim standard. Products or processes that 
do not meet the minimum requirements will not be recognized as USDA 
Certified or USDA Process Verified by AMS. The proposed standard for a 
grass (forage) fed marketing claim will be part of the voluntary USDA 
grade standards used in conjunction with USDA Process Verified program.

Proposed Standard

    As multiple organizations began to seek USDA certification or 
verification for the same or similar production practices, AMS 
determined it would be beneficial to establish minimum standards for 
common production and marketing claims. These standards will be 
instrumental in facilitating communication, establishing a common trade 
language, and enhancing understanding among producers and processors 
and their customers. Past experience indicates standards sort a highly 
diverse population into more homogeneous groups and when standards are 
uniformly applied, they provide a valuable marketing tool.
    AMS develops standards for marketing and production claims based on 
LS Program experience with USDA Certified and USDA Process Verified 
programs, research into standard practices and procedures, and requests 
from the livestock and meat industries. In addition, the LS Program 
obtains input from a number of individual experts in government, 
industry, and academia while drafting the proposed standards and their 
corresponding thresholds. The LS Program proposed the U.S. Standards 
for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims, as a notice and request for 
comments, in the December 30, 2002, Federal Register (67 FR 79552). 
This notice and request for comments covers only the grass (forage) fed 
claim. Other claims that appeared in the 2002 notice will be made final 
or modified and re-proposed as appropriate in separate documents 
published in the Federal Register. In the 2002 notice, the grass 
(forage) fed claim standard was proposed such that grass, green or 
range pasture, or forage shall be 80% or more of the primary energy 
source throughout the animal's life cycle. AMS conducted a listening 
session on February 11, 2004 in Washington, DC to discuss the grass

[[Page 27664]]

(forage) fed claim proposed in the 2002 notice. Participants as well as 
the issues raised were the same as or very similar to those reflected 
in the comments received concerning the December 30, 2002 notice. As a 
result of the public comments received and public listening session 
conducted, AMS determined significant modification to the proposed 
grass (forage) fed standard was needed.

Grass (Forage) Fed Claim Comments and Responses

    By the close of the comment period for the December 30, 2002 
notice, AMS received 369 comments concerning the grass (forage) fed 
claim from consumers, academia, trade and professional associations, 
national organic associations, consumer advocacy associations, meat 
product industries, and livestock producers. Only three comments 
received were in general support of the standard as originally 
proposed. Summaries of issues raised by commenters and AMS's responses 
follow.

Grass (Forage) Definition and Percentage

    Comment: AMS received numerous comments suggesting the percentage 
of grass and forage in the standard be greater than the 80 percent 
originally proposed. Most comments suggested the standard be 100 
percent grass or forage. Other comments recommended various levels of 
90, 95, 98 and 99 percent grass and forage as the primary energy 
source. While other commenters suggested that animals be on 100 percent 
forage diet with the exception of the winter season when free-standing 
forage is unavailable, at which time the animals can be fed 85 percent 
forage derived diet.
    Commenters were not only strongly concerned about the percent of 
grass and forage but also requested further clarification of the forage 
definition. Some comments received requested a grass feeding category 
be added. A few comments stated only grass and no stockpiled or stored 
forages should be permitted for a grass (forage) fed labeling claim.
    Agency Response: In the listening session and the extensive 
comments received, emphasis was placed on the diverse grass feeding 
regimes across the nation. For example, in the South grass is more 
readily available year round verses out west. Accordingly, due to the 
diverse range and climate conditions throughout the United States, it 
is not practical to limit grass and forage consumption to only non-
harvested grasses or forages and restrict the use of stockpiled or 
stored forages. The discussion of range conditions coupled with written 
comments has led AMS to develop a more detailed definition of forage 
and specific requirements for the grass (forage) fed claim. These 
details and specific requirements are set forth in this proposed 
standard. AMS determined the most appropriate way to integrate the 
grass (forage) fed claim into practical management systems and still 
maximize or keep the purest intent of grass and/or forage based diets 
was by changing the standard requirements to read that grass and/or 
forage shall be 99 percent or higher of the energy source for the 
lifetime of the animal. This will permit very limited supplementation 
due to inadvertent exposure to non-forage feedstuffs and/or adverse 
environmental or physical conditions to ensure the animal's well being 
at all times. Some comments indicated a need to distinguish grass 
(forage) fed and grass-finished categories; however, while 
participating in the grass (forage) fed claim listening session, the 
participants concluded the addition of a grass-finished category would 
only confuse consumers and lessen the meaning of a grass (forage) fed 
claim. The participants indicated the addition of another category to 
the claim would cause confusion in the wholesale and retail 
marketplace.

Purpose and the Consumers' Understanding of the Claim

    Comment: Many commenters requested the standard provide consumers 
with the confidence that they are purchasing what is represented on the 
label. One commenter stated that the grass (forage) fed claim should be 
meaningful and represent the product the consumer thinks they are 
buying--not some obscure definition. Other comments received requested 
that it be established whether the claim's purpose is to market the 
raising practices or to market the resulting meat characteristics of 
the grass (forage) fed animal. Some commenters discussed that they 
either raise or eat grass (forage) fed meat because grass (forage) fed 
livestock results in meat that has desirable levels of Conjugated 
Linoleic Acid (CLA) and omega-3 fatty acids. AMS received numerous 
general comments that opposed the definition of grass as 80% of the 
primary energy source as they indicated it would undermine the 
integrity of grass (forage) fed animal production. The majority of the 
commenters demanded further clarification of the definition so that the 
claim meets their production expectations i.e., grass (forage) fed, 
free-range, and antibiotic-free meat). A few comments received also 
suggested restrictions be established so that grass (forage) fed 
animals cannot be fed in confinement and one commenter stated the 
standard should acknowledge the overall positive environmental impact.
    Agency Response: AMS's standards and specifications should provide 
consumers and the industry confidence that the product consumed is 
actually produced in ways the label states. Additionally, AMS 
determined that all animals which meet the minimum requirements for 
grass (forage) feeding should be eligible for the grass (forage) fed 
claim and additional requirements or characteristics beyond energy 
source should not be incorporated in the standard (i.e., resulting meat 
characteristics such as level of CLA or omega-3 fatty acids or 
production practices). It will be up to the producer to make additional 
distinctions in their meat products beyond the grass (forage) fed claim 
and to educate their target consumers. While there is a synergistic 
nature to grass feeding and free range conditions, AMS has determined 
it is preferable to keep the terminology separate and develop two 
distinct standards for both grass (forage) fed and free range claims, 
particularly in view of possible distinctions in their energy sources. 
Granted, most grass (forage) fed livestock will also qualify as free 
range livestock (not fed in confinement); however, not all free range 
livestock will receive their entire energy source from grass or forage. 
For similiar reasons, the potential environmental impact of grass 
feeding was not included as an element in the grass (forage) claim 
standard.

Elimination of the Claim

    Comment: Twenty nine comments suggested or referenced the 
elimination of the standard as written. Commenters argued that the 
claim as originally proposed was not acceptable, too lax and 
misleading. They also stated the standard would undermine the integrity 
of grass (forage) fed beef and provide a loophole for grain-fed animals 
to be marketed as grass (forage) fed.
    Agency Response: A substantial amount of support has been shown 
throughout the livestock and meat industry for the creation of a grass 
(forage) fed marketing claim. Taking into account this support, AMS has 
determined that eliminating this claim would not be a viable option. 
However, AMS also determined significant modifications to the proposed 
grass (forage) fed standard were needed, as discussed previously in 
this notice.
    Accordingly, AMS proposes the following voluntary United States 
Standard for Livestock and Meat

[[Page 27665]]

Marketing Claim, Grass (Forage) Fed Claim, in this notice and seeks 
further public comment by interested parties.

United States Standards for Livestock and Meat Marketing Claims 
Relating to Live Animal Production, Grass (Forage) Fed Claim

    Background: For the purpose of this claim, forage is any edible 
herbaceous plant material, other than separated grain, that can be 
grazed or harvested for feeding. This claim applies to ruminant animals 
whose sole energy/feed source throughout their life span is derived 
from grass (annual and perennial), forbs (legumes, brassicas), browse, 
forage, or stockpiled forages. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, ensilage 
and post-harvest crop residue without separated grain may also be 
included in the feeding regime. Consumption of seeds naturally attached 
to herbage, forage and browse or grain in the immature stage is 
acceptable. Grass and/or forage must be 99 percent or higher of the 
energy source consumed by the animal during its lifetime, with the 
exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Very limited 
supplementation (i.e., less than one percent of the total energy 
consumed during the animal's lifetime) due to inadvertent exposure to 
non-forage feedstuffs or to ensure the animal's well being at all times 
during adverse environmental/physical conditions is permissible. 
Additionally, routine mineral and vitamin supplementation is 
permissible.

Claim and Standard

    Grass (Forage) Fed--Grass (annual and perennial), forbs (legumes, 
brassicas), browse, forage, or stockpiled forages, and post-harvest 
crop residue without separated grain shall be at least 99 percent of 
the energy source for the lifetime of the ruminant specie, with the 
exception of milk consumed prior to weaning. Routine mineral and 
vitamin supplementation may also be included in the feeding regimen. 
Grass (forage) fed claims will be verified, as provided in 7 CFR part 
62, by a feeding protocol that confirms a grass or forage-based diet 
that is 99 percent or higher.

    Authority: 7 U.S.C. 1621-1627.

    Dated: May 9, 2006.
Lloyd C. Day,
Administrator, Agricultural Marketing Service.
 [FR Doc. E6-7276 Filed 5-11-06; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3410-02-P