Do you know where your beef is coming from?

Livestock specialist Ron Gill says the packaging on your store-bought beef may not have the answer.

Labeling is regulated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. False claims carry a range of penalties, including rescinding the use of labeling, prohibiting shipment, prohibiting sale, product recall, fines and criminal prosecution.

But Gill said beef packers can finagle their way around these rules by using vague wording.

“Labels are regulated fairly tight,” Gill said. “There’s looseness around definitions, but you have to be able to verify claims.”

At his Wednesday luncheon presentation during the 2019 South Texas Farm and Ranch Show, Gill will explain the different labels that appear on beef packaging and their multiple possible meanings. Some of the most popular terms are grass-fed, locally-raised, natural and 100% vegetarian diet.

But Gill said local, for example, can have multiple meanings.

“I’ve seen it defined as a 100-mile radius, and I’ve seen it defined as a 700-mile radius,” Gill said.

And, if consumers are in search of a local product, they probably won’t find it by buying products labeled grass-fed.

Gill said much of the grass-fed beef sold in grocery stores is from Australia, Paraguay and other South American countries.

Through his presentation, Gill said he wants to clear confusion surrounding the beef purchased at stores.

“It’s getting to be somewhat of a problem in my opinion because everybody’s confused about what they’re trying to buy,” he said.

In addition to informing consumers, Gill said labeling information is useful for packagers of all sizes because it can help them market their products.

“Right now, the natural market is pretty big,” he said.

Gill, who now runs a medium-sized cattle operation with his wife, grew up around the cattle-raising business. His father managed ranches near Post.

Now a professor and livestock specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, Gill specializes in livestock handling and beef safety and quality assurance and is also interested in value added marketing.

Morgan O'Hanlon is the business and agriculture reporter for the Victoria Advocate. She can be reached at 361-580-6328, mohanlon@vicad.com or on Twitter @mcohanlon.

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