The decision, which went into effect on Jan. 12, stemmed from the agency’s recent conclusion that “certain services” don’t coincide with the agency’s statutory authority. AMS explained in the notice that without expressed authority from Congress, it is not the agency’s role to define any marketing claim standards.
With that said, Dr. Allen Williams, owner of Grass Fed Insights LLC and former beef cattle extension specialist at Mississippi State University, pointed out that AMS has never had the authority to do label approval and it hasn’t been approving labels. However, there have been numerous producers in the grass-fed community that have been under the false impression that they do.
“There are two primary reasons that this became such a firestorm over the last several days,” Williams explained. “The first reason is because the statement sent out by AMS was poorly worded, and the second reason was because there were lots of misconceptions in the grass-fed community over the USDA AMS grass-fed standard. There have been a lot of people that were misinterpreting that standard and what it really meant.”
Williams further explained that the AMS has what is called the Processed Verified Program (PVP), in which the agency can serve as a third-party certifier for any program or individual that wants to have production methods validated and audited by the USDA. When AMS wrote and published those grass-fed standards in 2006, they were strictly for PVP, and the Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) never used those standards to make grass-fed label approval decisions.
“A lot of people thought that the grass-fed standard by the AMS was the gold standard that was used by FSIS for grass-fed label approval, and that has never been the case; they are two separate arms of the USDA,” Williams said. “Only four programs were taking advantage of this, and they can reapply if they want to keep their USDA AMS third-party certification. The AMS had to rescind their standards because it was determined in the federal register that they actually didn’t have the legislative authority to write those standards to begin with.”
Craig Morris, AMS deputy administrator of the Livestock, Poultry and Seed program, pointed out that AMS will continue to verify grass-fed claims through its third-party verification services; the only difference is AMS will not be maintaining this voluntary standard. That regulatory authority did and still does rest with agencies like FSIS.
“It was much more of an administrative change,” Morris said. “It doesn’t really have an effect on the industry, and we are working to ensure that everyone understands this is just AMS making standards on our website clear and accurate, so that they don’t mislead everyone to wrongly thinking that AMS regulates these claims. It doesn’t have an effect on producers. Right now if a producer is grass feeding their cattle, they are under the same regulatory framework that they were two weeks ago.”