Selling meat from your farm? Make sure it is labeled properly!

Many farmers are direct marketing meat from their farm and need to be in compliance with regulations.

Farmers selling meat direct from their farm need to be in compliance with United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) regulations. There are two categories that meat falls into when selling direct – USDA inspected and custom exempt.

Meat that has been slaughtered and processed under USDA inspection can be sold by the carcass (or half, quarter, etc.) or as individual retail cuts. Meat sold to restaurants, grocery stores or at farmers markets must be USDA Inspected. Farmers selling individual retail cuts or bundles of meat directly to consumers must also be USDA inspected and in Michigan, additional licensing is needed.

Meat from animals slaughtered and processed under USDA inspection must meet labeling requirements. The USDA inspection mark must appear on the label of every package of meat. If there are no marketing claims included on the label, a generic label can be used. These generic labels are pre-approved for each USDA inspected plant. In addition to the USDA inspection mark, labels must include the common name of the product (species, wholesale and retail cut name – i.e. Beef Rib Steak); net weight; date packaged; name and address of processor; and safe handling instructions. Further processed items that have more than one ingredient, such as sausage, must have an ingredient statement. The farmer cannot add anything else to the label without prior approval. This includes basic point of contact information like name, address, phone number, email or website address. Additional items added to a label require prior USDA FSIS approval. No label on a meat product can be false or misleading to the customer or consumer. Starting in January 2012, there will be additional label requirements that meat processors will have to follow for single-ingredient raw meat products.

More information regarding labels that need prior sketch approval is described in the article What does meat labeled natural or naturally raised really mean? or from FSIS. There is also more information regarding specifics on marketing claims about organic meat. FSIS provides a list of definitions of several meat and poultry labeling terms.

Meat that was slaughtered and processed under custom exempt may only be consumed by the owner of the live animal, his/her family, or non-paying guests. When animals are slaughtered and processed under custom exempt conditions, no inspection of the carcass or parts occurs, thus the owner of the live animal assumes some degree of risk associated with consuming the meat. If an animal is going to be eaten by four different individuals (sold as quarters or half-of-a-half), then all four individuals must own the live animal prior to slaughter. The owner(s) of the live animal, who should have documentation of ownership, needs to pay the processing fees to the processor. Custom exempt slaughter and processing is under USDA-FSIS jurisdiction. Every package of meat produced under custom exempt conditions must clearly be marked NOT FOR SALE. This meat cannot be sold or donated to anyone.

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