Although regulated in the United States since 2007,12 the marketing claim that a meat product comes from an animal that was "grass-fed" is not subject to formal government approval in Canada. While Canada's existing advertising laws apply to such claims, there is no legislative or regulatory definition of what "grass-fed" entails.
No steps have yet been taken to legislatively regulate "grass-fed" claims under Canadian advertising laws, however, according to a press release by Animal Welfare Approved (AWA),13 a United States-based food labelling program that promotes animal and environmental welfare, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) recently approved the use of a label developed by AWA allowing certified farms to mark their foods with a label stating: "This product originates from animals who are raised under the standards of the Animal Welfare Approved Program" (AWA Program).14 This is believed to be the first food label for grass-fed meat in Canada approved by the CFIA.
The AWA program certifies that the livestock have been born and raised entirely on grass and forage until the day they are harvested. In addition to restrictions on diet, animals must be raised on pasture or range for the duration of their lives. The AWA independently inspects and audits farms and slaughter facilities to confirm adherence to AWA standards. To date, four Canadian farms have succeeded in gaining the AWA certification: two in Quebec, one in Ontario and one in Alberta.
Grass-fed labels in the United States
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) defines "grass-fed" as the consumption of grass or forage for the duration of the animal's life.15 Grain and grain by-products are prohibited.
Various grass-fed certification groups exist in the United States. Some certification groups go beyond USDA requirements, and may also restrict or prohibit administration of hormones or antibiotics, and also require humane treatment of animals and environmental conservation.
Grass-fed vs. Organic Certification
Although both label claims (grass-fed and organic) have gained attention amongst consumers, "organic" label claims are more highly regulated in Canada under the Organic Products Regulations (OPRs), which are applicable to products marketed in inter-provincial and international trade. The CFIA sponsored the creation of organic production standards including the Organic Production Systems General Principles and Management Standards.16 The OPRs require mandatory certification to the Canadian Organic Standards (Canadian Organic Production Systems Standards: General Principles and Management Standards and the Permitted Substances Lists17) for agricultural products represented as organic in import, export and inter-provincial trade, or that bear the federal organic agricultural product legend (or logo).