The USDA Label Says Grass-fed, but is It?

What does the USDA grass-fed label really represent? Grass-fed beef expert Jo Robinson explains.

  • USDA grass fed label
    The Process Verified Shield tells you that a grass-fed beef product meets the USDA’s standards, but does it meet yours?
    Illustration courtesy USDA

  • USDA grass fed label

Labels that identify a package of beef as “grass-fed” don’t always tell the whole story. To ensure that the product is what it claims to be, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tells us to watch for their “process verified shield,” but what exactly does that guarantee? We asked grass-fed beef expert Jo Robinson to explain.

MOTHER: What’s the story behind the shield? 

Jo Robinson: The shield only verifies that the beef meets standards for a grass-fed label as set by the USDA in October 2007, which were meant to define the term “grass-fed.” A definition was needed because all cattle eat grass for the first 6 to 12 months, but then most are shipped to feedlots and fattened on grain for the rest of their lives. Some producers marketed this meat as grass-fed even though the animals were actually finished in a feedlot.

MOTHER: What standards must be met to qualify?

Robinson: To qualify for the USDA grass-fed label, cattle must be fed only mother’s milk and forage (grass and other greens) during their lifetime. The forage can be grazed or consumed as hay or other stored forage. Also, the cattle must have access to pasture “during the growing season.” 

MOTHER: Are there any objections to the standards?

4/7/2019 3:33:10 PM

Effective 2/16/2016 USDA No longer verifies "Grass Fed" see

Roberta Anderson
9/29/2010 4:59:37 PM

You can trust labels from independent, third-party certifiers with transparent, rigorous standards and verification methods! You can compare label "report cards" on the Consumer Reports site: One good example? Food Alliance Certified - Grassfed. In order to sell Food Alliance Certified Grassfed products, animals must be raised on pasture or range, where they can browse on an exclusive diet of grass and forage plants. Animals may not be fed grain or grain by-products, or receive hormone or antibiotic treatments of any kind. All Food Alliance Certified livestock producers must meet standards for safe and fair working conditions, soil and water conservation, and protection of wildlife habitat under the Whole Farm/Ranch Criteria, as well as healthy and humane animal treatment in compliance with relevant Livestock Criteria. Learn more at

David Andrews
7/21/2009 3:09:06 PM

Grass fed beef can have the same marbling and texture of "regular" beef. Range beef is tougher beef, and has a strong, almost gamy taste, so proper grass fed beef is grass fed and then grass finished. It is the finishing process that makes beef tender, not so much corn or soy or any other grain. Finishing is where the beef is put in holding pens and fed (usually grain). It was once thought that the grain made the beef tender, but now we know it was keeping them in pens so that they get no exercise that did that, much as a human "couch potato" gets fat (and tender) with no exercise. It is very difficult to see or taste any real difference between proper grass fed beef and grain fed beef. One test to make sure you have real grass fed beef is to check the fat left in the pan after cooking. True grass fed beef fat will still be liquid as it cools to room temperature; grain fed or finished beef will be white and almost solid (think lard).



Fall 2021!

Put your DIY skills to the test throughout November. We’re mixing full meal recipes in jars, crafting with flowers, backyard composting, cultivating mushrooms, and more!


Subscribe Today - Pay Now & Save 64% Off the Cover Price

50 Years of Money-Saving Tips!

Mother Earth NewsAt MOTHER EARTH NEWS for 50 years and counting, we are dedicated to conserving our planet's natural resources while helping you conserve your financial resources. You'll find tips for slashing heating bills, growing fresh, natural produce at home, and more. That's why we want you to save money and trees by subscribing through our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. By paying with a credit card, you save an additional $5 and get 6 issues of MOTHER EARTH NEWS for only $12.95 (USA only).

You may also use the Bill Me option and pay $17.95 for 6 issues.

Canadian Subscribers - Click Here
International Subscribers - Click Here
Canadian subscriptions: 1 year (includes postage & GST).

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter flipboard

Free Product Information Classifieds Newsletters