Up until the end of 2015, the United States required Country of Origin Labeling on meat. When Congress passed the omnibus bill at the end of the year, it repealed funding for COOL, as the labeling is called. Why would lawmakers take away information from a food label when more consumers are demanding to know what's in their food and where it comes from?
Last spring, the World Trade Organization ruled that certain provisions violated international trade law. Instead of changing the provisions that were in violation, Congress chose to get rid of COOL completely, according to U.S. News and World Report. The meat industry opposed COOL because of concerns about U.S. consumers who shy away from foreign meat. You might think U.S. meat producers wouldn't want competition from foreign countries, but it's not that cut and dried. Meat is sometimes raised in the U.S. but shipped elsewhere for processing and then shipped back to the U.S. for sale. That's part of the reason the U.S. meat industry would rather consumers be in the dark about where their meat is raised and processed.
In addition to the repeal of COOL, the USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) has revoked the grass-fed meat labeling standard, according to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). This doesn't mean meat will not be labeled as grass-fed. It means that the USDA standard that applied to "small and very small producers" (see USDA's qualifications) no longer needs to be met for the meat to be labeled that way. The label was originally created for producers with 49 cattle or fewer or lambs produced from 99 ewes or fewer to verify that their meat was grass-fed.
The AMS says it doesn't come under its authority to create the standard and the label, and that another branch of the USDA, the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS), has the sole authority to create and implement a standard. But to make things even more confusing, the FSIS has no such standard. Farms that use the label now have 30 days to "convert the label claim into an existing private grass-fed standard, or develop a new grass-fed standard of their own."
The AMS standard required "grass, forbs, and forage needed to 99 percent or more of the energy source for the lifetime of a ruminant species after weaning" to be labeled grass-fed. If farms are permitted to create their own standards, that percentage could vary from farm to farm greatly, and then there's no standard at all. The label will mean nothing because it could mean anything.
NSAC urges consumers to contact the FSIS to tell them to "adopt and strictly enforce the now revoked AMS grass fed standard." To do so, consumers can email firstname.lastname@example.org.