Once their livestock is ready to market, some producers are choosing to engage in the processing, packaging and marketing of meat products themselves. This increases the portion of the consumer dollar that goes back to the farm.

One method that is increasingly popular is the marketing of grass fed beef. “Many producers are using claims that are associated with certain production practices to better meet consumers' preferences and differentiate their product in some way,” says Jennifer Dutton, a University of Tennessee Extension marketing specialist with the Center for Profitable Agriculture.

“Producers who are marketing these types of products need to be aware of the regulations,” says Dutton. “All product labels and labeling claims, including grass fed claims, must be approved by the USDA Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS).”

Dutton says the new grass fed standards do not change this requirement.

USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has established new standards for the voluntary grass fed marketing claim. Process verification is provided through Quality System Verification Programs (QSVP).

More information about the USDA Process Verified Program can be found online at www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/arc/audit.htm.

The new grass fed standards require a 100-percent forage-based diet for ruminant animals that are to be processed into meat products and then sold under the grass fed label.

The standard allows stockpiled forages and harvested forage without grain when grass is not readily available throughout the year. Grain and grain by-products are not allowed under the new standard. Some supplements are allowed in order to maintain animal health.

The new grass fed standards went into effect on Nov. 15, 2007. Complete guidelines are described in the notice published by USDA AMS. Go online to http://www.ams.usda.gov/lsg/stand/grassclaim.htm