The threat of ‘GREENwashing’ - recommendations to navigate misleading claims

written by

Kevin Cory

posted on

April 27, 2022

In continuation of our “Welcoming Series” we’ll share the presence of ‘GREENwashing.’ GREENwashing is the misleading or false claims you are likely to encounter on the commodity market. But why does this occur? 

In business vernacular, there is a premise known as premium or the consumers’ willingness to pay a little more for value gainedThrough university studies, there is a marked preference towards grass-fed meats.  From these studies, the researchers coined the term grass premium [1]This grass premium is a driving factor for the conventional meat industry to create flashy labeling and packaging gimmicks to land more sales.

As mentioned in our previous blog and email, the consumer is often overwhelmed and confused by the labels and claims found on commodity meats.  Maybe this happened to you and you don't even know it.

Unfortunately, this misleading and misrepresentation occurs to thousands of consumers who are seeking healthier and ethically sound options for their families.  Navigating label claims can be daunting and downright frustrating, but it doesn’t have to be this way for you as a discerning consumer.

Follow Me Land & Livestock is the application of a decade worth of study, research, and the self-pursuit of healthy options for our growing family.  We’d like to offer you an inside look into the livestock industry to aid you in cutting through the marketing gimmicks when shopping for truly grass-fed meat.

Lamb is often a culprit of misleading marketing.  Why?  Lamb, compared to chicken and pork, has higher perceived value and greater temptation for unethical price increases through the claim of Product of the USA or Grass-fed.  Also, nothing beats a glorious rack of lamb or succulent lamb chops. This is not unique to lamb, but also includes the hallmark of a Saturday BBQ – beef.

Through this article, it is my aim to expose the most misleading claims encountered.  For the purposes of our discussion, we will focus on beef as this is more common to you as a consumer and there is a higher market segment for this product.  Additionally, there is a correlation in production methods between beef and sheep as both classes of livestock are managed similarly in the industrial model.  

Before we start down the list, keep in mind that every single day over 100,000 cattle are harvested for food in the U.S [2] and 97% are packed in crowded, unhygienic feedlots and fed high starch grain [3].  However, every brand in the grocery store aisles is attempting to make claims that their beef is different, unique, and better through GREENwashing.  

The numbers simply do not match the data. 

Next time you’re at the grocery store, spend a few extra minutes in the meat eils and you’ll see my point. 

The regretful reality is that the industry, after decades, is unchanged with 85% of the beef sold at retail comes from the same four companies [3]. So, with that additional fact, let’s continue…

The top 6 claims to look out for:


#1 Grass-fed or 100% Grass-fed

While at face value the claim is correct.  100% of ruminants are initially raised on grass.  This phase of production is known as backgrounding and managed through stocker operations.  The purpose of the stocker industry is to take low weight animals (lambs and calves) and put on weight for the feedlot industry.  In the feedlot the ruminant animal (cattle, sheep, and goats) are pumped with high energy grain (corn), carbohydrate supplements (molasses), and protein licks (urea).  

Further, many feedlot producers, under contract, follow a set protocol to improve weight gain.  The sooner the animal is at harvest weight; the lower the overhead costs. These protocols stipulate the use of beat pulp and soy bean hulls.  While technically neither of these additives are grain, they aren’t 100% Grass-fed either.  

How can this occur? Doesn’t the USDA as the regulatory agency dictate 100% Grass-fed? 

Theoretically, the USDA does not allow for feedlot finishing nor the feeding of grain to be labeled “100% Grass-fed.”  However, the production protocols of the largest brands that tout “Grass-fed” on their labels allow for grain by-products including soy hulls, peanut hulls, beet pulp, DDGs (dried distillers grains) and many other non-starch grain by-products.  Additionally, there are less than 50 Food Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) employees at the USDA who are responsible for verifying nearly 1 million label submissions per year. It is simply impossible for so few people to ensure the accuracy behind each label claim.

Recommendation: The only way to verify a claim of “100% Grass-fed” is to visit the actual farm.  

#2 Product of USA

This claim is often found on both lamb and beef and is quite meaningless.  All meat that is imported into the USA can legally claim “Product of USA.”  Just as long as the carcass is passed through a USDA inspector. Loophole? 

This labeling gimmick is one of the most egregious loopholes in the food industry.  It undermines YOUR ability as a consumer to know exactly what you are purchasing and where it comes from.

According to the Stone Barns Center [3], 75-78% of all grass-fed beef sold at retail is imported from overseas and can be sold as “Product of USA.” The report goes on to say that “American consumers are often not aware that they are buying imported beef.”

Recommendation: Whether you are buying an online monthly home delivery subscription box or visiting the local grocery chain, ask what state the animal was raised in.

#3 Certified Organic Beef

When you visualize “organic” what comes to mind? Close your eyes and open your senses.

For Laura and I, when we envision “organic” we think of the definition – “living matter.”  We (Laura and I) correlate organic to birds, trees, grass, fresh air, and sunshine.  All being representatives of the word organic.

Below is a photo of Aurora Dairy in Stratford, TX.  This is an 18,000 cow organic operation.  How can this be organic? Where’s the green grass, trees, and fresh flowing water? Again, how can this be organic with the fecal laden dust the poor animal is forced to breathe in?  Imagine the rate of illness the animal experiences and the amount of “organic certified” drugs given. [3]


Much of the “Certified Organic” beef on the market is derived from spent dairy cows, which are raised as organic certified.  These are older cows who are fed high energy organic feeds (corn, beat pulp, certified antibiotics, and certified narcotics) to maintain a plane of nutrition for high milk production.  By the end of the animals’ productive life, they are then slaughtered and sold as organic.  These organic dairies mirror industrial style feedlot production practices [3]. 

No trees.  No fresh air.  Zero access to fresh green forage. 

There is tremendous amounts of material articulating the misleading claims of certifications and the expensive certification process (~$5000 annual fee).  Michael Pollan, a leading thought leader on the subject, provides extensive research and information on the GREENwashing and misleading trends of the commodity market [4].

More on “organically” produced lamb & beef.  Certified can and is fed high-energy, starchy grains.  These grains and grain by-products are “certified organic” which means it can be fed to the ruminants.  What’s the big deal?  Ruminants have a multi-chamber stomach that allows the animal to consume and digest leafy materials (grass, forbs, and weeds).  The animal is not designed to consume and digest corn, soybean, peanut seeds.  This creates a health effect known as acidocis as the stomach biology and ph level negatively changes.  This leads to the suffering and death of the animal.  Additionally, the high-grain diet creates an increase in methane emissions, which is said to be a contributing factor to climate change.  Of note, the methane emission I refer to is the digestive byproduct of high-starch feeds.  The emissions is flatulence.  

The ruminant is not divinely designed to digest corn and soybean seeds, but are fed these non-natural feeds and still maintain organic certification.  Another interesting fact is that “organic certified” grain operations still use synthetic chemical pesticides, fungicides, and herbicides.  How is this organic? Please visit the USDA’s resource for a full list of approved synthetic pesticides for organic production here.

One final point, according to The Cornucopia Institute nearly half the organic corn and over 80% of the organic soybeans used for livestock feed is imported from China and former Soviet Bloc countries that are known for fraudulent practices.

Recommendation: To not be misled by stickers, be a discerning patron of your local farm.  Challenge him on his production methods and principles and verify with your own senses. 

#4 Humanely Raised

Due to distrust in the commodity meat industry, there has been an increase of 3rd party certification programs to convince consumers that the animal was treated humanely.  Regretfully, these programs do little to actually improve the welfare and humane management of livestock on industrial agriculture operations.  These certifying bodies include the Global Animal Partnership (GAP), American Humane, Certified Humane, as well as others permit and certify concentrated animal farming operations (CAFO).  We will expand on factory farming and CAFOs at a later date.

Pictured is Delta Egg Farm of Chase, Kansas. This egg factory is certified "humane" as the birds have access to "fresh air" every day. However, lets analyze the photo in more detail. For perspective, on the left side of the buildings, next to the single tree, are large excavation equipment. Look at the size of the equipment in the photo to that of the buildings. Wow!. Why the equipment, to scoop out the feces from the enormous factory buildings. Further, along the left hand side of the buildings are cages. These cages allows the birds exposure to "fresh air" and to be outside in accordance with humane handling protocols. Also, look at how tall the building are in relation to the tree - those buildings are at least two stories. Neighbors, this is a city of chickens. Thousands of birds cramed into those buildings with little to no exposure to the outside world. However, this facility is certified "humane."

Delta Egg Farm, Chase, Kansas

Progressive grocery chains use GAP to certify and label its meat products.  The certification appears to be of the highest standards, but this is only superficial.  However, with further analysis, there are five-levels of GAP certification.  Yes, the package of meat at these progressive retailers do show GAP certified.  The question is, “which level of certification? The majority of products sold meet the lowest levels of animal care.  It is safe to assume that the variable levels of certification is to create a higher perceived value for the labeling claim. 

The humane certification program is typically conducted on an annual basis.  Creating the opportunity for dishonesty by producers who in the weeks leading up to the inspection clean up their operation in accordance with a checklist.  What occurs throughout the remainder of the year?  

Proper animal welfare can only be achieved if it is a protocol adhered to daily.  

Recommendation: Visit your farm.  Ideally there is a 24-7 open door policy. Pay the farm a visit and get to know your farmer and his animals.  Just be courteous and respect his time by calling the morning of.

#5 All-Natural vs Naturally-Grown

Let’s do another sensory exercise.  What is your connotation of “all-natural” or “naturally-grown?”  Close your eyes and engage your senses. 

For Laura & me, we again envision fresh air, sunshine, spring rains, lush green growth, trees, rainbows, and a world that is alive.  Further, we envision the natural system we attempt to replicate – the grassland of the prairies, the savannahs of Africa, and the vast Arctic tundra.  All of these biomes and biological systems is natural design.  These systems are symbiotic.  The grazer (bison, wildebeest, and caribou) is in a dense ever moving herd grazing as much as they can in each bight and then moving onward, leaving their feces behind them. The herd is pressured by predators.  Flocks of birds follow behind the herd of herbivores to sterilize the land from pestilence.  And the entire biological system gives the forage rest and time to regrow.  The system does not return to the same location for an entire year and the entire system is charged by solar rays.  This is all natural.

The claim of “all-natural” and “naturally-grown” is a confusing allegation as both of these claims have very different meanings when applied to livestock production practices.

“All-Natural” means the meat is not fundamentally altered through processing and is free of artificial ingredients.  This claim is oriented towards processing and not production.  This means that the animal, while alive, could be altered through artificial hormones, antibiotics, or vaccines.  But, that cut of meat does not have artificial additives.  

“Naturally-Raised” means the animal was raised free of artificial growth hormones or animal by-products.  Of note, this claim does not exclude the use of drugs and still allows for cattle to be raised in feedlots.

Recommendation: Again, we recommend you know your farmer or the provider of your meat products.  Ask them on their production philosophies & principles and how these values are applied under their conditions.

#6 Locally Sourced Beef

Over the past few years, you might have noticed licensing and certifications at the state government level including Alabama Grown and Georgia Grown.  Over all, we should promote these programs in support of the local economy and small-town producers. While being started with good intentions, be advised that these products only require being processed and not grown within the state to qualify for this badge. In many states, branded meat companies can source livestock from any state and still qualify as long as it was processed in the certifying state.

Recommendation: Know your farmer and ask questions.  Are the animals born and raised on the farm? Are they shipped in from other areas? What is the chain of ownership?


We should be discerning, health conscious consumers who seek the best choice for our families.  We often use labels to evaluate and judge food integrity and quality.  But it is important to understand that labeling is deliberately designed to create an increase in perceived value towards the consumer.  This is not to increase transparency but to increase profit margin.  Please do not misunderstand me.  I am a fan of the free market and the pursuit of profit.  However, this pursuit must be morally and ethically sound.

As outlined, labeling and packaging is the least reliable method to judge quality and your money’s worth – the label is only paper-thin. What matters is the transparency, integrity, and honesty of the company behind the labeling claims.  It distills down to trust and trust cannot be regulated, labeled, nor enforced. 

At Follow Me Land & Livestock, we believe the primary solution is that the stakeholders involved in the food system must have integrity - farmers, distributers, regulators, law-makers, and consumer alike. However, expecting integrity from international corporations, regulators, and law-makers is a near impossibility, leaving you (as the consumer) and us (as your local producer).  We now have a two-step process:

  1. You as the consumer must demand integrity and force the other stakeholders of the food system to respond. 
  2. In the meantime, you as the consumer becomes a neighbor and patron of your local, regionally focused family-farm.  

Have a blessed day.


Only the Best for Your Family and Ours

Why stop here? Discover more!

The Stark Truth: Grain-fed vs. Grass-fed - Follow Me Land & Livestock (

The threat of ‘GREENwashing’ - recommendations to navigate misleading claims - Follow Me Land & Livestock (

Freedom Chicken - The Healthier Choice - Follow Me Land & Livestock (


  1. Determining Consumer Perceptions of and Willingness to Pay
  2. Factory Farms
  3. Back to Grass PDF
  4. Books - Michael Pollan Michael Pollan
  5. 4 Companies Control Almost All the Meat You Eat
  6. How many cows are in a single hamburger?
  7. “Factory Farms” Massive Production Quanitities


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