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DENVER– Rocky Mountain Farmers Union (RMFU), which represents more than 26,000 independent family farmers and ranchers in Colorado, Wyoming, and New Mexico, has written to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), opposing portions of its proposed protocol for grass-fed labeling. The current USDA proposal would allow animals fed roughage, including corn and other grain silages, in confinement, to be labeled as “grass-fed.”
RMFU supports the rule that animals must receive 99 percent of their non-lactating lifetime energy supply from grass and forage in order to have their meat or milk labeled “grass-fed.” RMFU supports the assertion of the American Grassfed Association that while legitimate grass-fed producers in many parts of the country must, during dry and cold times of the year, feed dried roughage (hay), the focus of grass-fed production should be animals raised in grass pastures, not in the confinement of feedlots and fed corn silage and other grains not separated from their stalks.
“If USDA fails to define the standard this way, it will have a devastating effect,” said RMFU President John Stencel in the letter. “It will destroy the legitimate grass-fed industry, which has been diligently developed by independent family farmers and ranchers trying to carve out a niche and boost their ability to make a living. Secondly, defining grass-fed as USDA has proposed will undermine the confidence of consumers who expect that a product labeled “grass-fed” is raised predominantly on pasture and not in a feedlot.”
The letter also points out that allowing animals fed grains will cause the meat labeled “grass-fed” to fall short in ensuring the proven health benefits grass-fed meats provide to consumers.
According to research at Auburn University in Alabama, grass-fed beef contains anywhere from two to 10 times as much omega-3 fatty acids as regular beef. These healthy fats are known to be important for the brain, for the heart and possibly for mood. Studies also suggest that there could be health advantages to returning to a diet that has more omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, grass-fed meat and milk, compared with their commercial counterparts, have increased levels of beta carotene, vitamin E, and more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a type of healthy fat. There is growing evidence that CLA may help reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease, and may be linked to a lower percentage of body fat.
“RMFU believes that the labeling rules for grass-fed products must recognize this science and maintain the integrity of the market that grass-fed producers have created,” Stencel said in his letter. “RMFU has more traditional producers than specialty producers, such as grass-fed, but in today’s competitive environment, it is important that independent producers have options that will enable them to compete. Do not pull the rug out from under the feet of these entrepreneurial producers by adopting rules that destroy a viable, beneficial and growing business sector!”
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