The term is invading your grocery store's dairy section. Does it mean what you think it means?

By F&W Editors
Updated May 24, 2017

If you've shopped for yogurt lately, you might have noticed a new adjective on some containers. Dairy producers large and small have pounced on the term grass-fed.

But what does it mean? That's not so clear, reports Civil Eats. You might imagine that grass-fed dairy products originate with milk made from cows who eat only grass and hay, but the term (like others including "humane" and "natural") is not regulated by the government. "One company may define 'grassfed' as a diet that includes as much as 15 percent grain," writes Lisa Elaine Held, "and and a consumer would have no way of knowing the difference."

The USDA (which just rescinded its guidelines for grass-fed meat) has displayed no interest in getting involved, but third-parties are stepping in. The American Grassfed Association is set to unveil a grass-fed dairy certification standard. Since 2013, Pennsylvania Certified Organic has offered a similar certification. Its stamp of approval appears on Stonyfield Farm's newest yogurt line.

Is grass-fed dairy healthier than conventional? There's some evidence that it could be: Studies have found milk from grass-fed cows to contain elevated levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and it's well-established that those are good for you.

What is clear, Held notes, is that consumers want to buy products labeled grass-fed (or grassfed or grass fed; maybe the government could at least mandate a spelling standard). Organic Valley's Grassmilk products helped drive the company to $1 billion in sales in 2015. Whole Foods recently forecasted that the term would be one of the top food trends in 2016. It's possible that in the near future, the term will be as common for dairy as organic.