Labeling and Regulations

An Overview of Regulations for Labeling Claims

By Dave Carter, NBA Executive Director

Click here to view the Regulatory Environment presentation

Bison producers use a variety of finishing protocols based upon many factors, including climatic conditions, land base, herd health, and customer preference. The National Bison Association does not define, advocate or certify specific practices regarding the feeding of bison bound for slaughter. Increasingly, bison and other meat producers are seeking to distinguish their products in the retail marketplace through a variety of claims. This section can help producers navigate the regulations governing label claims on bison meat.

Bison products packaged for the commercial retail marketplace must comply with the regulations governing the information are required to be included on retail package labels. A Guide to Federal Food Labeling Requirements for Meat and Poultry Products is a comprehensive set of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) guidelines for meat labeling of claims. The guide can be downloaded at: (Note: the USDA is in the process of updating this guide.)

The guide also contains the regulatory requirements governing the use of any special nutritional claims, such as “low fat, “high protein” and “low in cholesterol.”

Producers wanting to make special label claims, including, but not limited to Raised Without Antibiotics, Organic, Grass Fed, Free-Range, and Raised Without the Use of Hormones should refer to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service  Labeling Guideline on Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submissions  (  

Here are some of the rules surrounding the top claims.


Labeling for no added growth hormones is easy for bison because it is illegal to use hormones on our animals. Any label that claims “No added hormones” must—by law—include an asterisk, with language nearby specifying “Federal regulations prohibit the use of growth hormones in bison.”

For a non-antibiotic claim, The USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service has allowed processors to accept signed affidavits from produces that they did not use any antibiotics during the animal’s life. However, there is an indication that the FSIS may work with its sister agency, the Agricultural Marketing Service, to require audit-based verification of these claims in the future.


The use of the word organic is the most tightly regulated voluntary claim in the food marketplace. The modern organic labeling program was first authorized under the 1990 Farm Bill, and is now governed by a series of regulations implemented in 2002.

Producers can only use the term organic—and the USDA Organic Seal—on products that have been approved by an accredited certification agency to contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Foods containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients can be labeled as “Made with Organic (ingredient name)” but cannot carry the USDA seal.

For bison to be marketed as organic, they must graze exclusively on certified organic pasture and eat certified organic feed. Normal vaccines are allowed, but common parasiticides are prohibited. And, the animal’s mother must have been managed under organic protocols from the last third of her gestation. Any meat marketed as organic must also be slaughtered and processed in certified organic facilities. 

Any company using the term organic without complying with the USDA regulations can be subject to an $11,000 fine per violation. Information on organic certification is available at


The grassfed label has become increasingly attractive to consumers in recent years. That label claim is not as tightly regulated as organic, but there has been an effort over the past decade to establish a definition for the use of grassfed on meat labels.

In 2007, the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service developed a voluntary grassfed label for meat sourced from animals that are fed a diet exclusively grass (annual and perennial), forbs (e.g., legumes, Brassica), browse, or cereal grain crops in the vegetative (pre-grain) state. Animals cannot be fed grain or grain byproducts and must have continuous access to pasture during the growing season. Hay, haylage, baleage, silage, crop residue without grain, and other roughage sources may also be included as acceptable feed sources.

Meanwhile, the American Grassfed Association has developed a similar set of protocols for the AGA Grassfed label. The AGA standards require that the livestock be on pasture at all times. AGA also offers a wide selection of agencies (including extension agents) to verify compliance. AGA standards, unlike USDA grassfed standards do not allow hormone implants or the sub-therapeutic feeding of antibiotics.

In 2016, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service withdrew its definition, based on a determination that the agency did not have the authority to mandate this type of regulation. In September 2017, The USDA FSIS included the previous AMS definition in its handbook for Labeling Guideline on Documentation Needed to Substantiate Animal Raising Claims for Label Submissions  (  


The Non GMO Project Verified label is the fastest growing claim in the food business today. This label is administered through a non-profit organization, but the USDA FSIS and the Food and Drug Administration have regulated its usage on retail packaging.

In 2013, the agencies authorized the use of the label as long as it specified that the animals were fed a non-GMO feed regimen. Any package carrying the Non GMO Project logo must now also include the language “Meat from animals fed a diet verified to be in compliance with the Non GMO Verified Project standards for the avoidance of genetically engineered material.”

To comply with the Non GMO Project standards, feed must be tested and verified to contain less than 0.9 percent GMO material.


The USDA does not have any specific labels addressing this issue, so a variety of non-profit organizations have stepped in to provide consumers with assurance that animals were raised in a humane manner.

Among the label claims in the marketplace today are Certified Humane, administered by the Humane Farm Animal Care; American Humane Certified, administered by the American Humane Association; and Animal Welfare Approved, administered by the Animal Welfare Association.

In addition, the Global Animal Partnership (GAP) has established a five step system in which participating producers are rated from Step One through Step Five (most stringent). GAP began as Whole Foods’ in-house humane husbandry ranking system, but has since been spun off into an independent organization. Whole Foods, however, continues to be the largest user of GAP.


The Heart Healthy claim is a trademark owned by the American Heart Association. Anyone wanting to use that claim must pay the appropriate fees to the AHA, and submit samples to demonstrate that the product meets the association’s requirements for use of the label.