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Foreign beef can legally be labeled “Product of U.S.A.” It’s killing America’s grass-fed industry
July 16, 2018

Editor’s note: This article shows how the elimination of country of origin labeling for meat caused American producers’ share of the grass fed cattle market to decline from 60% to 15% in just a few years.

Last month, in a petition formally filed with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), two advocacy groups made a stunning claim: Your American grass-fed beef might actually come from overseas, even if it’s labeled “Product of U.S.A.”

[Joe Fassler | July 16, 2018 | New Food Economy]

Those two groups—the American Grassfed Association (AGA), which offers the country’s leading “grass-fed” certification, and the Organization for Competitive Markets, a watchdog group that fights corporate consolidation in the food industry—point out that a massive regulatory loophole allows companies to falsely, and yet legally, claim their imported beef comes from our pastures.

The trouble began in 2015, when the Obama administration’s USDA rolled back Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for beef and pork products, allowing meat to be sold without disclosing its home country on the label. But that decision, which angered many American ranchers, has further muddied the waters in a way no one quite anticipated. Under the current rules, beef and pork products that are shipped to the United States and processed further here, can be labeled “product of U.S.A.,” even if the animal was raised a continent away. That means a steer slaughtered in Uruguay and broken down into steaks at a meatpacking plant in Colorado is technically American meat—even if it isn’t.  

That’s a huge issue for American grass-fed producers, who are now finding themselves undercut by foreign competition. Allen Williams, a 6th-generation rancher and founding partner of Grass Fed Insights, a leading consulting group on grass-fed beef, says U.S. producers owned more than 60 percent of the domestic grass-fed market in 2014. Then came COOL. By 2017, American ranchers’ share had plunged to just 20 to 25 percent, according to an industry analysis by the Stone Barns Center for Agriculture. Today, Williams, who consulted on the Stone Barns report, says American producers claim only about 15 percent of the grass-fed market—and that share is rapidly shrinking.

Ranchers attribute the decline directly to COOL repeal. The fact that foreign companies can pass their imported beef off as American, they say, has made fair competition impossible.

“The very idea of labeling beef in a grocery store ‘product of U.S.A.,’ when the animal never drew a breath of air on this continent, is just horrible,” says Will Harris, owner of White Oak Pastures, which produces its branded line of grass-fed beef in Bluffton, Georgia. (Harris is also on AGA’s board of directors.) “I don’t begrudge importers or producers from other countries selling to knowing consumers that want to buy that imported product. But I’m appalled at what the deception has done to the economies of our membership. It has moved the needle from grass-fed beef producers being profitable, to being a very break-even—or, if you’re not careful, a losing—proposition.” 

Imported grass-fed beef brands are taking advantage of a legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

But though pastured beef often isn’t as American as it looks, a question remains: How much does it actually matter? I found myself wondering how much we mean to prioritize domestic purchasing when we spend a little more to buy grass-fed, and whether the product’s country of origin makes a meaningful difference. Are grass-fed steaks from Australia all that different from those raised on a ranch outside Austin, Texas? I wanted to know whether we we should stop handwringing about geography—or if misleading labels somehow betray the grass-fed ethos, and amount to a profound abuse of consumer trust.

Grazed and confused

If Williams is right that only 15 percent of the grass-fed beef is raised domestically, you wouldn’t necessarily know it just by strolling through the grocery store. On a recent trip to Trader Joe’s, I inspected a package of “100 percent grass-fed organic ground beef,” looking for clues about its origins. The casual observer could be forgiven for mistaking that product for American meat. The splashy consumer-facing label features a USDA organic seal, a USDA inspection sticker, and, in smaller print, the phrase “processed in USA” alongside Trader Joe’s corporate address in Monrovia, California. Of course, foreign beef can still be certified USDA organic and all imported meat goes through USDA inspection. But this product features not one but four allusions to the U.S. on its label. The average shopper wouldn’t be crazy to assume it’s coming from here.

Flip the package over, though—to the side few people read up close—and the label tells a different story. In small, no-frills font, below the freeze-by date and above the safe handling instructions, are the words “Product of USA, Australia, and Uruguay.” That phrasing would seem to suggest that Trader Joe’s ground beef is a blend of beef from American, Australian, and Uruguayan cows—an arrangement that might surprise some customers, given what the front of the package says. But even thatreasonable assumption may not be accurate. Trader Joe’s may only be buying Australian and Uruguayan meat that’s then ground at a facility in the U.S.—enough to qualify as American in the eyes of regulators. It isn’t really possible to tell.

If Trader Joe’s and other grocery brands were really selling meat from cows raised in this country, you’d think they’d make a bigger deal of it.

Trader Joe’s organic grass-fed ribeye steak also prominently features USDA’s organic and inspection seals on the front—as well as the phrase “Product of USA” in small font on the back, by the nutrition facts. But are the company’s grass-fed ribeyes really produced here? Or are they just processed here? It’s impossible to tell from the label alone, and Trader Joe’s had not responded to my requests for clarification by press time.

The Trader Joe’s scenario is a good example of how products can follow the letter of the labeling law and still be misleading. But other brands have done more to take advantage of this legal ambiguity—and some are downright deceptive.

Bubba Foods, a Jacksonville, Florida-based company whose products are sold by major retailers like Walmart, Kroger, and Wegman’s, puts its American-made claims front and center. The label on the company’s grass-fed ground beef displays a prominent “Product of USA” banner, complete with an American flag—and, if that wasn’t enough, the proud phrase “Born & Raised in the USA.” But paperwork filed with USDA, obtained by the American Grassfed Association and shared with me, suggests the product may not be American at all—at least, not in the conventional sense most shoppers would understand.

Bubba Foods’ marketing would suggest that its beef is born and raised in the U.S. A look at its affidavit to the USDA suggest otherwise

Any producer who wants to sell a commercial grass-fed beef product has to file an affidavit with USDA’s Food Standards Inspection Service (FSIS), laying out the agricultural practices it will use and submitting an example of their product label. Bubba’s affidavit includes several details that caught my attention, considering the aggressive nationalism of its label. A nutritional analysis describes the product as “import grass-fed” beef. It also includes an import record from Australia, noting that an “Australian National Vendor Declaration” will certify the product’s grass-feeding regime. The final 20 pages of the document lay out the specifics of Australia’s Pasture-Fed Cattle Assurance Standard, a program that isn’t available in other countries.


The Health Benefits of Grass Farming

The Health Benefits of Grass Farming

Author: Jo Johnson
“Why Grassfed is Best!”

Consumers have been led to believe that meat is meat is meat. In other words, no matter what an animal is fed, the nutritional value of its products remains the same. This is not true. An animal’s diet can have a profound influence on the nutrient content of its products.

The difference between grainfed and grassfed animal products is dramatic.

First of all, grassfed products tend to be much lower in total fat than grainfed products. For example, a sirloin steak from a grassfed steer has about one half to one third the amount of fat as a similar cut from a grainfed steer.

In fact, grassfed meat has about the same amount of fat as skinless chicken or wild deer or elk.1 When meat is this lean, it actually lowers your LDL cholesterol levels.2

Because grassfed meat is so lean, it is also lower in calories.

Fat has 9 calories per gram, compared with only 4 calories for protein and carbohydrates. The greater the fat content, the greater the number of calories.

A 6-ounce steak from a grass-finished steer has almost 100 fewer calories than a 6-ounce steak from a grainfed steer.

If you eat a typical amount of beef (66.5 pounds a year), switching to grassfed beef will save you 17,733 calories a year—without requiring any willpower or change in eating habits. If everything else in your diet remains constant, you’ll lose about six pounds a year. If all Americans switched to grassfed meat, our national epidemic of obesity would begin to diminish.

Extra Omega-3s

Although grassfed meat is low in “bad” fat (including saturated fat), it gives you from two to six times more of a type of “good” fat called “omega-3 fatty acids.”

Omega-3 fatty acids play a vital role in every cell and system in your body. For example, of all the fats, they are the most “heart friendly.” People who have ample amounts of omega-3s in their diet are less likely to have high blood pressure or an irregular heartbeat. Remarkably, they are 50 percent less likely to have a serious heart attack.3

Omega-3s are essential for your brain as well. People with a diet rich in omega-3s are less likely to be afflicted with depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit disorder (hyperactivity), or Alzheimer’s disease.4

Another benefit of omega-3s is that they may reduce your risk of cancer.

In animal studies, these essential fatty acids have slowed the growth of a wide array of cancers and kept them from spreading.5 Although the human research is in its infancy, researchers have shown that omega-3s can slow or even reverse the extreme weight loss that accompanies advanced cancer.6 They can also hasten recovery from cancer surgery.7

Furthermore, animal studies suggest that people with cancer who have high levels of omega-3s in their tissues may respond better to chemotherapy than people with low levels.8 Omega-3s are most abundant in seafood and certain nuts and seeds such as flaxseeds and walnuts, but they are also found in grassfed animal products.

The reason that grassfed animals have more omega-3s than grainfed animals is that omega-3s are formed in the green leaves (specifically the chloroplasts) of plants. Sixty percent of the fat content of grass is a type of omega-3 fatty acid called alpha-linolenic or LNA.

When cattle are taken off grass and shipped to a feedlot to be fattened on grain, they lose their valuable store of LNA as well as two other types of omega-3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA. Each day that an animal spends in the feedlot, its supply of omega-3s is diminished.9

The graph below illustrates this rapid decline.

When chickens are housed indoors and deprived of greens, their meat and eggs also become artificially low in omega-3s.10

Eggs from pastured hens can contain as much as 20 times more omega-3s than eggs from factory hens.

Switching our livestock from their natural diet of grass to large amounts of grain is one of the reasons our modern diet is deficient in these essential fats. It has been estimated that only 40 percent of Americans consume a sufficient supply of these nutrients. Twenty percent have levels so low that they cannot be detected.11 Switching to grassfed animal products is one way to restore this vital nutrient to your diet.

The CLA Bonus The meat and milk from grassfed ruminants are the richest known source of another type of good fat called “conjugated linoleic acid” or CLA. When ruminants are raised on fresh pasture alone, their milk and meat contain as much as five times more CLA than products from animals fed conventional diets.12

CLA may be one of our most potent defenses against cancer.

In laboratory animals, a very small percentage of CLA — a mere 0.1 percent of total calories —greatly reduced tumor growth.13 Researcher Tilak Dhiman from Utah State University estimates that you may be able to lower your risk of cancer simply by eating the following grassfed products each day: one glass of whole milk, one ounce of cheese, and one serving of meat. You would have to eat five times that amount of grainfed meat and dairy products to get the same level of protection.

There is new evidence suggesting that CLA does reduce cancer risk in humans.

In a Finnish study, women who had the highest levels of CLA in their diet, had a 60 percent lower risk of breast cancer than those with the lowest levels of CLA.

Switching from grainfed to grassfed meat and dairy products places women in this lowest risk category.14 Vitamin E In addition to being higher in omega-3s and CLA, meat from grassfed animals is higher in vitamin E.

The graph below shows vitamin E levels in meat from: 1) feedlot cattle, 2) feedlot cattle given high doses of synthetic vitamin E (1,000 IU per day), and 3) cattle raised on fresh pasture with no added supplements. The meat from the pastured cattle is four times higher in vitamin E than the meat from the feedlot cattle and, interestingly, almost twice as high as the meat from the feedlot cattle given vitamin E supplements.15

In humans, vitamin E is linked with a lower risk of heart disease and cancer. This potent antioxidant may also have anti-aging properties. Most Americans are deficient in vitamin E.


wb01512_  The NY Times best selling author, Jo Robinson, has an informative book “Why Grassfed is Best!” on the benefits of grassfed beef. She has done a great service educating America about this healthy beef and her book is a “must have” in your library of health books. Please visit her web site at to purchase the book and learn more about this healthy beef.


1. Fukumoto, G. K., Y.S. Kim, D. Oduda, H. Ako (1995). “Chemical composition and shear force requirement of loin eye muscle of young, forage-fed steers.” Research Extension Series 161: 1-5. Koizumi, I., Y. Suzuki, et al. (1991). “Studies on the fatty acid composition of intramuscular lipids of cattle, pigs and birds.” J Nutr Sci Vitaminol (Tokyo) 37(6): 545-54.

2. Davidson, M. H., D. Hunninghake, et al. (1999). “Comparison of the effects of lean red meat vs lean white meat on serum lipid levels among free-living persons with hypercholesterolemia: a long-term, randomized clinical trial.” Arch Intern Med 159(12): 1331-8. The conclusion of this study: “… diets containing primarily lean red meat or lean white meat produced similar reductions in LDL cholesterol and elevations in HDL cholesterol, which were maintained throughout the 36 weeks of treatment.”

3. Siscovick, D. S., T. E. Raghunathan, et al. (1995). “Dietary Intake and Cell Membrane Levels of Long-Chain n-3 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids and the Risk of Primary Cardiac Arrest.” JAMA 274(17): 1363-1367.

4. Simopolous, A. P. and Jo Robinson (1999). The Omega Diet. New York, HarperCollins. My previous book, a collaboration with Dr. Artemis P. Simopoulos, devotes an entire chapter to the vital role that omega-3s play in brain function.

5. Rose, D. P., J. M. Connolly, et al. (1995). “Influence of Diets Containing Eicosapentaenoic or Docasahexaenoic Acid on Growth and Metastasis of Breast Cancer Cells in Nude Mice.” Journal of the National Cancer Institute 87(8): 587-92.

6. Tisdale, M. J. (1999). “Wasting in cancer.” J Nutr 129(1S Suppl): 243S-246S.


USDA Grassfed Labeling

On January 12, USDA's Agricultural Marketing Service rescinded the standards for the grassfed marketing claim. These were the minimal standards behind the grassfed label found on meat sold wholesale or retail. The reasons for the rescission are somewhat unclear, but according to AMS representatives, they have reinterpreted their authority and decided that developing and maintaining marketing standards does not fit within their agency


The unfortunate thing for producers who have worked hard to build quality grassfed programs is that, with no common standards in place, they will be competing in the marketplace with the industrial meatpackers who can co-opt the grassfed label.


For Consumers


Once again, consumers lose out on transparency and an understanding of what they're buying. Grassfed has always been a source of some confusion, but now, with no common standards underpinning it, consumers will find it increasingly difficult to trust the grassfed label. Like other mostly meaningless label terms like natural, cage-free, and free-range, grassfed will become just another feel-good marketing ploy used by the major meatpackers to dupe consumers into buying mass-produced, grain-fed, feedlot meat.


For those who want to buy real grassfed with a label they can trust:

  • Buy from a farmer you know, and ask plenty of questions. Do you supplement with grain or grain by-products such as brewers and distillers grain or by-products from ethanol production? Where do you get your animals? Do you use antibiotics or hormones? Do you feed your animals in confinement?
  • If you don't have the luxury of knowing your producer personally, then look for the American Grassfed Approved logo. It's the first and only standard developed by producers, range scientists, veterinarians, animal nutritionists, and other experts that guarantees the meat comes from animals fed a 100-percent forage diet, never confined to a feedlot, never fed antibiotics or hormones, and born and raised on American family farms. No other certification offers those assurances, and no other grassfed program uses true third-party audits to ensure compliance.
  • Avoid buying inexpensive grocery store grassfed. Chances are good that it's imported-- although now that Congress has eliminated County of Origin Labeling, there's no way to be certain-and the animals were probably confined and supplemented with some form of grain.
  • Avoid buying meat with a grassfed percentage on the label. It's either grassfed or it's not. Studies have shown that even a small amount of grain in the animal's diet affects the nutritional profile of the meat. 

American Grassfed Association is the industry pioneer and leader, being the first organization to institute standards that most closely match what consumers want when they buy grassfed. The organization is led by American family farmers who have been in the business for decades, and who understand the unique challenges of producing products from healthy animals that are good for people, good for the planet, and good for rural communities.


Recent newsletter release by AGA. If you have questions, please email to

Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

Health Benefits of Grass Fed Beef

  • Recent studies have uncovered the large difference in carotenoid content between grass-fed and conventionally fed beef. Grass-fed beef may contain more than twice the amount of beta-carotene and lutein present in conventionally fed beef.
  • The cholesterol content of grass-fed beef has repeatedly been shown to be lower than the cholesterol content in beef from conventionally fed animals.
  • You’ll find yourself getting 500-800 milligrams of CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) from a 4-ounce serving of grass-fed beef. This amount is approximately two to three times greater than the amount found in non grass-fed beef. CLA is unique in its chemical structure, and this uniqueness is associated with an increasing list of health benefits, including immune and inflammatory system support, improved bone mass, improved blood sugar regulation, reduced body fat, reduced risk of heart attack, and maintenance of lean body mass.
  • Grass-fed beef also contains greater amounts of vaccenic acid than conventionally fed beef. Various bacteria in our digestive tract are able to convert vaccenic acid into CLA once we’ve consumed grass-fed beef, and this process can further increase the practical amount of CLA that we receive from grass-fed animals.
  • The omega-3 fat content of grass-fed beef varies, but is higher in grass fed cows. Some recent studies show up to 3.5 grams of total omega-3 fats in 4 ounces of grass-fed beef.

New Spring Pricing on Arizona Raised Lamb

Spring Pricing (limited time)

Arizona Grass Fed Lambs are raised by the "old ranching methods," feeding them food that is as close as possible to their native diets. No corn, feed grains, animal or industrial feed by-products are used to finish the lambs. We do not implant the animals with hormones or feed them growth-promoting additives. Animals raised on pasture live very low-stress lives. As a result of their superb nutrition and lack of stress, they are superbly healthy. When eating Grass Fed Lamb you are eating food that is nutritious, wholesome, and delicious.

We have chosen Arizona breeds of lamb that yields a mild and tender flavor. These breeds of sheep are much different than a New Zealand or Australian breed of sheep. New Zealand and Australian sheep are typically found in the average grocery store. These lambs often taste very strong and gamy because they are bred for their wool not their meat.

We acquire the Arizona Grass Fed Lambs from ranchers that respect our belief in raising lambs in the most humane and natural methods. The average age of our grass fed lambs are 9 to 12 months old at the time of processing. Our Arizona product is available year round in limited quantities. We sell whole, half, quarter, or individual cuts of lamb at Farmers Markets,. See our website for more details. Prices per lb are on package weights. CURRENT PRICES ARE SUBJECT TO CHANGE

Whole Lamb     40-50 lbs. $10.25 / lb.
Half Lamb         20-25 lbs. $10.50/ lb.
Quarter Lamb  10-12 lbs. $11.00 / lb.
Loin Chops 1"  4 chops in each package $21.50 / lb.
Shoulder Roasts or Chops $12.50 / lb.
Rib Roast (Rack of Lamb) $21.50 / lb.
Sirloin Chops and Kebobs $14.50 / lb.
Leg of Lamb Bone In (whole or split) $14.50 / lb.
Leg of Lamb Boneless (whole or split)        $18.50 / lb.
Stew Meat $11.95 / lb.
Ground Meat $11.95 / lb.
Ribs $8.00 / lb.
Shanks $9.95 / lb.
Organ Meats (heart, liver, kidney, tongue) $4.00 / lb.