Understanding Organics: Meat & Poultry
Where do organic meat and poultry come from?
Farmers who emphasize the use of renewable resources and the conservation of soil and water to enhance environmental quality for future generations raise organic meat and poultry. Organic farmers must also adhere to the following standards:
- Animals are given no antibiotics, hormones, or growth stimulants.
- Animals are treated humanely and given access to the outdoors.
- Animals must be fed 100% certified organic feed and must graze in certified organic pastures.
- All meat and poultry processing must be done according to strict USDA standards in a plant certified and regularly inspected for organic production. Animals designated for dairy may not be sold for slaughter.
- At the packing plant, animals are isolated from conventional herds and fed organically. Few plants process exclusively organic products, so the entire line is cleaned to organic specifications before any meat or poultry product is run.
What is the health benefit of organic meat?
Conventional meat and poultry is raised with the help of synthetic hormones, antibiotics, pesticides, and chemical fertilizers, which have been known to make their way into the meat and potentially into those who eat it. Therefore, organic meat and poultry is thought by some to be healthier and more nutritious than food produced by industrial agriculture. In addition, animals raised in a sustainable manner are not subjected to the high levels of stress found on factory farms, which can lead to healthier animals and therefore healthier meat and poultry.
Is grass-fed meat better?
There is some evidence that sustainable techniques of pasturing enable animals to eat the grasses and greens that their bodies are naturally adapted to eat, resulting in healthier animals and leaner cuts of meat. Moreover, some experts believe that since cattle are meant to eat grasses, the acidity levels in their stomachs are altered when they eat grains, making them more susceptible to bacteria and infections.
On factory farms, animals are fed corn and grains, as well as additives and byproducts to make them gain weight. As a result, factory-farmed meat can often have a high fat content. In contrast, meat from pasture-raised animals is often lower in calories, and contains a better ratio of good fats to bad fats. Even free-range poultry and eggs frequently have less fat than their factory-farmed counterparts.
What labeling terms are helpful to know?
Understanding the following terms can help you when shopping for meat and poultry.
- Cage-free: A bird raised in a chicken house that may or may not offer access to the outdoors.
- Free-range: Poultry that has had some access to the outdoors each day.
- Pastured: Hens that can roam free on farms, eating their natural diet.
- Vegetarian: Poultry that has been fed only corn and grain.
- Grass-fed: Animals that have eaten nothing but their mother's milk and grass.
- Natural: Meat and poultry cannot contain any artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or artificial or synthetic ingredients, and cannot be more than “minimally processed.”
- Organic: Meat, poultry, eggs, and dairy products that come from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones.
For more information on labeling of organic products, see Understanding Organics: Labeling.