Organic meat must meet strict cultivation standards to carry an organic label. The rules and guidelines vary slightly regarding types of livestock and poultry. However, the basic expectations of minimal exposure to potential chemicals associated with conventional agriculture practices and minimal human intervention in the growth process guide the raising of animals intended for the organic market.
The demand from consumers for organic meat is growing. In fact, even popular fast food chains and grocery stores as well as upscale restaurants are offering this ever growing popular food product.
USDA Organic Meat Label Requirements
In order to carry the USDA Organic label, livestock must meet the following criteria for the duration of their lifespan:
- May not be subjected to genetic modification, irradiation, or exposure to sewage sludge
- Raised using processes which preserve biodiversity and natural resources
- Raised using the guidelines provided in the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances (Lists approved synthetic substances and unapproved natural substance for organic livestock cultivation)
- An authorized USDA National Organic Program certifying agent must monitor the producer which operates in accordance with all USDA organic requirements
- Livestock must be allowed to live in an environment which allows them to maintain good health and exhibit their natural behaviors all year.
- Mammals must be treated organically from the last third of gestation and poultry from the second day of hatching
- Given access to outdoors year round
- Raised on land meeting and maintaining certified organic requirements
- Raised according to livestock health and welfare standard
- Feed must be 100 percent organic; exceptions allowed for vitamin and mineral supplementation to ensure animal health
- Use of antibiotics, supplemental growth hormones, and animal byproducts in feed is prohibited in addition to arsenic, manure, urea, and arsenic compounds
Organic meat farmers must take extra care to ensure the health of their livestock. Since their treatment options are limited to the use of permitted vaccines, farmers focus primarily on disease prevention.
Humane treatment of livestock and poultry raised for the food market is also a prominent reason that some consumers choose to eat organic grass fed beef, free range chicken and byproducts such as eggs and milk.
Health Benefits Of Organic Meat
The health benefits of eating organic meat include decreased exposure to toxins, avoidance of antibiotics that increase bacterial resistance and no synthetic hormones that are detrimental to human health. Organic meats offer superior nutritional benefits that support good heart health and immunity function.
When compared to conventionally raised livestock, grass-fed and free range poultry offer the following nutritional benefits:
- Lower in artery clogging saturated fats
- Higher amounts of omega 3 fatty acids
- Contains more conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), an omega 6 fatty acid, which may reduce cancer risk
- Grass-fed beef provides more lutein and carotenoids
- Grass-fed beef contains 22 to 39 percent less cholesterol
- Grass-fed beef also supplies significant amounts of the following nutrients,
- Vitamins B3, B6 and B12, Vitamin E, beta-carotene, selenium, zinc, phosphorus and pantothenic acid
The ratios of healthy fats, omegas 3 and 6, to unhealthy saturated fats shifts to a less healthy profile, depending how much grain is included in an animal’s diet.
Where Can You Find Organic Meat?
Due to consumer demand, organic meat is now found more commonly on grocery store shelves. It can also be purchased via your local farmers. Some organic farmers form consortia or cooperatives through which their meats can be ordered, either in person, by mail or online. Expect to pay more for organic meats.
The production volume for organic livestock is lower and the demand for organic meat products continues to grow. According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 45 percent of Americans seek to include organic foods in their diet.
Not all labels are created equal. Although often used in labeling to appeal to consumers, the terms “natural”, “cage free”, “hormone free”, “antibiotic free” and “free range” do not necessarily require verifiable certification. They also do not guarantee a product meets all organic standards.
For your protection, verify your organic meat seller before making a purchase. Always check for the USDA white and green organic label. You can also check the USDA website to verify that a farmer or retailer is recognized as a source of certified organic products.