Guest post: A Vermont hog farmer’s opinion of the proposed “Naturally Raised” label

The following is from Walter Jeffries, who raises hogs on pasture in Vermont at Sugar Mountain Farm.

A while back I wrote that the USDA was stealing the term Naturally Grown. Well, they have done so. No need to listen to comments from the people. No need to wait for the rule to be implemented. They just went ahead and stopped the use of Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) on meat labels. I hate saying "I told you so," I really do, especially since I'm the one, along with all CNG farmers and consumers, who's taking a beating here...

The scoop on the Naturally Raised claim is that the USDA has asked for comments on a proposed Naturally Raised claim standard. They have it in the Federal Registry and are asking for comments until January 28.

The proposed standard is to be voluntary, but it is anything but that for small farmers — much like a voluntary NAIS. The USDA is already rejecting meat labels with the Certified Naturally Grown logo. I discovered this when I submitted our most recent label design for our Sugar Mountain Farm's All Natural Pastured Pork Hot Dogs last fall before the comment period even started.

Despite the facts that:

1) it is a voluntary standard,
2) the comment period has not yet closed and
3) the rule is not yet implemented,

the USDA is already rejecting Certified Naturally Grown as a violation of the proposed rule. They told me I may not use the CNG logo on our new label. Interestingly, they had previously accepted our use of the the CNG logo back in the beginning of 2007 for our last meat label design. Thus this is a change in policy.

The worst part is that not only is the USDA stealing and destroying the already existing Certified Naturally Grown label that was created by small farmers to differentiate themselves from the mass produced factory farms, but it is also diluting the standard — the USDA proposed version totally fails to cover the real issues such as access to pasture and natural quality of life. The USDA proposal also puts in restrictions on diet that are weird, such as saying that pigs and chickens can't drink milk or eat cheese — two very good foods for both of these species. The USDA's proposed rule is written such that it specifically benefits large confinement feeding operations so they can use the term while making it harder for small farmers who are really Naturally Raising their livestock.

Like with Certified Organic, once again, the USDA steals from the small farmers to give to Big Ag — the anti-Robin Hood of agriculture.

Now is your chance to be heard. So go to that link and respond — jump through all the hurdles to get your comments into the registry. They appear to purposefully make it difficult to leave comments but don't give up, work your way through the process. Once again, here's the link for leaving comments on the new proposed Naturally Raised rule. Tell them what Naturally Raised means to you.

15 Responsesto “Guest post: A Vermont hog farmer’s opinion of the proposed “Naturally Raised” label”

  1. leighlanejeans says:

    I'm new to the nitty gritty of food labeling, but want -- and think we should -- have real differentiation between naturally grown food & corporate organic.

    Has USDA lobbying been successful enough that natural food growers can't legally form an association with a trademarked designation only available to its members, and have an independent food label? Are food labeling restrictions this tight?

    It seems the only real solution to getting naturally raised food labeling accomplished any time soon is an independent certification/designation that's free of USDA & lobbyists, and that is legally trademarked so unnaturally raised food prodcers can't coop the designation. That said, I'm a total novice at this, and being a 1/2-cynic bet I know the answer...USDA labeling laws are really this strict.

  2. Miki says:

    The USDA is very good about receiving and taking into consideration comments from anyone on new protocols like this. What a crybaby.

    There is a need for a unified national standard for this, and the existence of a similar sounding (and very generically named) private alternative certification would be confusing to consumers. This is called "federal preemption."

    This guy should stop bitching and should work to build an advocacy organization of companies like his to promote a realistic two-level certification, with access to pasture and a "natural life" being a requirement for the higher level. Realistic, detailed, implementable proposals from industry (and yes, this guy is in the "industry") are taken very seriously by the USDA. Hire some legal help, draft specific draft standards, think through the details of how the USDA could, on the ground, verify and enforce the standards. With that sort of approach there is a very good chance of succeeding.

  3. Jen Hendrickson says:

    Miki, apparently you did not read the post or follow the links that quite clearly show that there is a unified national standard for this in the form of an advocacy organization of companies eg. farmers who are promoting a very clear set of detailed and implementable standards called, drum roll please, CERTIFIED NATURALLY GROWN. Go to http://naturallygrown.org and read all about it. That is what the USDA is destroying -- an already existing set of standards. Jeezsh. Get real.

  4. Henwhisperer says:

    Miki, you don't know what you are talking about. Yeah, try, just try to go up against USDA and their business partners: Cargil, Monstanto, Perdue, Tyson and the rest of the dirty food makers. They have much deeper pockets than any of us combined.

  5. Expat Chef says:

    Was wondering what a naturally-raised pig farmer might think about glow-in-the-dark pigs? http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/4605202.stm

    I did leave comments on the labeling and support of small farmers as well. It's not nearly so hard to jump through a few hoops for this as the pre-internet days when consumers like myself never even knew about this stuff. Here's to technology, though perhaps not glowing pigs.

  6. Podchef says:

    Miki, you need to quit smoking the crack they handout at Federal canteens. . .The very way you phrase your diatribe makes it obvious your a little too close to the matter to be objective.

    Given then environmental, political and social situations forming on the globe, how long does the USDA plan to keep up the Charade? Their corporate puppet masters keep pulling the strings, but the body is dying. Cutbacks, massive costly screw ups and a public which is sick to death of empty government promises and a do-nothing campaign on food safety and security will all lead to a revolt. Go ahead, USDA keep trying to be like DEFRA in the UK--emulate them as much as you want, and then notice that DEFRA is about to die a painful death. And when all of it's secrets are exposed--the purposeful release of FMD, the killing of millions of animals needlessly and the huge cost to taxpayers which has ruined a country's agriculture--and people wake up and pay attention, then all the USDA bootjacking, goose-stepping and Heil DEFRA, and the World Order will leave the yea-sayers, the toadies and corporate bitches without a plant to piss on.

    The USDA may fool a few consumers for a short while. Changing words and meanings, clamping down on honest farmers trying to raise quality food amidst corporate greed, contaminations, recalls, and poisonings can only work for so long. As the climate changes, as consumers get sick of the food scares, and costs rise for the Global Corporate Surfs and the hog industry and chicken industry collapse and the Beef industry realizes it has just licensed BSE for everyone who eats beef and is killing off their market, things will change. The small, the local, the honest will survive. We've no need of labels, and terms and marketing gimmicks. People will buy our food because they know us, can visit with us, can see our farms and smell and taste thier part of our success. That's something the USDA, the Corporations cannot copy, license or emulate in anyway--because it's human, it's relational, it's honest and the way things have moved on since time began.

  7. Bonnie P. says:

    Hey -- Let's keep comments civil. That means nothing you wouldn't say in a workplace or university classroom. No crack-smoking crybabies! C'mon, you guys are smart enough to make your arguments without resorting to name calling.

  8. Sue F says:

    I've given up on using the word Organic since the USDA got involved. It's too expensive for the majority to use. Still I will grow things the best I can and not use weird stuff. CNG came about because a lot of people couldn't afford that elite club that the USDA definitions and rules made.

    CNG already has an set of standards that are quite clear. Just not the elite membership fees.

    There's a small farm not to far from here who now advertises it's beef as "produced with no weird stuff". My assumption is they got tired of the word games too. A few beef cows in a field of grass doesn't need a formal definition. That's the way it's been since time began.

  9. leighlanejeans, There is an independent certification organization called Naturally Grown. Check out their web site at http://NaturallyGrown.org on the web. They provide a complete set of standards for plants and livestock to be raised naturally. Farms that meet their requirements and inspections are allowed to use the Certified Naturally Grown logo. This organization is free of the USDA and big-ag lobbyists. CNG was started by small farmers for small farmers and consumers.

    Miki, everything you ask for already exists. See CNG above. There is no need to have the USDA come in and dilute the existing standards like they did for organic. Please do check out CNG.

  10. Paul Horton says:

    Walter Jefferies of Sugar Mountain Farm is, by no stretch of the imagination, part of the industry. In fact, he has been, and continues to be, one of the clearest, most concise and intelligent voices in this country speaking out against everything that is wrong with the USDA promoted, protected and subsidized industrial food system - The same system that threatens our individual freedom, our security and our national health.

    Natural food growers already have a farmer- to-farmer certification program that works quite well for farmers and consumers. It is known as “Certified Naturally Grown” and has been around for several years to the satisfaction and content of many who are distrustful of or unhappy with the fairly recently “acquired” USDA “Certified Organic” label. Those of us who are producing or consuming naturally grown foods do not want to be forced into creating another label but it seems we will have to.

    I am annoyed but not overly concerned about this because I have faith in the millions of people across this country who are seeking real food, who are searching for the truth about our food system, who are learning of the disgraceful greed that is the driving force behind many of our government’s policies. I have absolute faith that these people will find good food, real food, nutritious food, naturally grown food. They will find it regardless of the roadblocks the USDA throws up.

    It is clear to many of us that those who wish to control our food supply are very unhappy with the millions of Americans who are suddenly interested in having fresh foods available to them. People in every corner of this country can see that the USDA is determined to contain the Local Food movement and stop its growth.

    But guess what? This movement has momentum that will not be stopped thanks, in part, to Walter Jefferies and many others like him.

  11. Katie says:

    Here's my letter:

    The USDA should NOT ban a non-governmental group from using the
    catchphrase "Certified Naturally Grown" to summarize its standards. I know that
    language is awfully close to the USDA's "Naturally Raised," but the
    private/nongovernmental group had the phrase "C.N.G." first!

    I mean, I'm trying to imagine the USDA banning the Oregon Tilth from
    saying, "Certified organic by the Oregon Tilth." That'd be AWFUL! I'd never buy
    anything organic again! (I never buy organic when it's just USDA organic...sorry
    guys... But at least when it's Tilth-certified AND USDA-certified, I'll still buy it,
    which means the marketers might still think it's worth paying you for
    certification...so letting yourselves have competing certifiers on a label with you is
    still to your benefit.)

    Anyway, yes, I know that "Certified Naturally Grown" is a lot more similar to the
    language you intend to use than ".........tilth...." ever was, but that's just too bad.
    They should get to keep their catch phrase.

    The USDA took a proper first step--coming up with a different catch phrase rather than simply using the exact same words (that'd be blatant trademark/copyright infringement in spirit), but now they MUST take the second step and allow the "Certified Naturally Grown" to keep using their language EVEN WHILE the USDA uses its "naturally raised" language.

    If you let them keep "Certified Naturally Grown," I will buy things that also have the
    USDA-certified catchphrase on them. But if you don't--if you prevent them from
    using their phrase--I WILL boycott the USDA's certified "naturally raised" products
    no matter who else also certified them, and I WILL spread the boycott beyond
    myself and let every USDA-naturally-raising-certified company know that we're
    boycotting it on account of bearing the label of an organization that unfairly told
    another group that it could not use its catchphrase.

    So please, look out for the not-wanting-a-boycott interests of those who will be
    paying for your certification! Keep the "ethical eaters" of America willing to buy
    things that have your "natural" label on them! Allow "Certified Naturally Grown" on
    labels both alongside your catchphrase AND on labels of products that don't have
    your certification!

  12. Bonnie P. says:

    Katie, that's awesome! Thanks for sharing it with us.

  13. Ann N. says:

    I checked out the CNG website and they have an excellent description of what CNG means.

    Now, check out the Certified Angus website. Do you get the impression that buying Certified Angus brand means that you are buying beef from a 100% registered Angus? According to USDA definitions a beef that sort of looks like (51% black in color) an Angus actually would qualify for Certified Angus labeling.

    How can the USDA support one group, whose labeling I find misleading, and hijack another group's very clear definition of its product?

  14. Tammy says:

    Thanks, Walter. Comment posted.

  15. I just got this in from a source within the USDA:

    I apologize for the delayed response. For some reason, Outlook was putting your emails in a junk mail folder rather than my inbox. I finally discovered them randomly. Typically, dairy and eggs are not considered "by-products;" however, they are mammalian and avian protein sources so we are waiting to make a final rule regarding this issue after the close of the comment period based on what the information we receive in the comments. Thanks and again I apologize for the delayed response.

    It is important that we give feedback to the USDA. Apparently they are still listening...