Organic beef

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Organic beef is culinary meat, from cattle that are not fed antibiotics, hormones or animal bi-products. The cattle is raised as free range in humane conditions.

Organic beef is not a new concept. In fact, before the advent of factory farming, beef across the world was organic. The demand or organic beef has been soaring in the past few years thanks to diet trends, the discovery of mad cow disease and rising awareness among consumers.


Why should I be aware of this?

  • Organic beef reduces health risks
  • It meets stringent standards
  • It respects water resources
  • It has no toxic chemical inputs.
  • It maintains the health of the soil.
  • It keeps rural communities healthy

All about organic beef

The philosophy of organic production is to provide conditions that meet the health needs and natural behavior of the animal. Thus, organic livestock are given access to the outdoors, fresh air, water, sunshine, grass and pasture, and are fed 100 percent organic feed. Any shelter provided must be designed to allow the animal comfort and the opportunity to exercise. Organic practices prohibit feeding animal parts of any kind to ruminants that, by nature, eat a vegetarian diet. Thus, no animal byproducts of any sort are incorporated in organic feed at any time.

In organic production, livestock cannot be fed plastic pellets for roughage, or formulas containing urea or manure. They cannot be given antibiotics or growth hormones. All of these are allowable practices in conventional agriculture.

For an animal to be raised for organic beef, its mother must have been fed organic feed for at least the last third of gestation.

For a start, an organic beef system allows cattle to graze pasture for most of their lives. Feed must meet organic standards and 60 per cent of the ration must comprise roughage such as grazed grass and clover or conserved fodder such as silage. These feeds are produced without the use of agrochemicals. No artificial growth promoters can be used, and antibiotics for preventative purposes are banned. Animal health and welfare is managed with minimal use of veterinary medicines, concentrating on providing good housing and grazing conditions for the cattle.

Understanding beef labels

  • Conventional -- These come without specialty designations. The cattle might have been fed corn and other grains on an industrial feedlot, even if it started out on grass. Grain is used in the place of grass as it is quicker and cheaper, and translates into a faster turnaround and higher profits. However, grains are tough on the digestive system of cows, and makes them vulnerable to sickness. The cows then require antibiotics. They are also routinely given growth hormones .
  • USDA Certified Organic -- The cattle is raised on grass or grain-based feed that does not contain animal by-products. These animals are not given antibiotics (unless required by a veterinarian, and then the animal loses organic status) or growth hormones. To address animal welfare concerns, cattle are raised in conditions "which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species” and “access to pasture”.
  • Grass fed or pasture finished -- These cattle are raised only on grass or hay, no grain. Studies indicate that grass-fed beef contains higher levels of Omega-3 essential fatty acids than conventional beef.
  • No hormones/No antibiotics -- The USDA allows this label for growers who provide documentation, but they do not check up on the claims. “Hormone free” and “antibiotic free” are not USDA approved designations and so are meaningless.
  • Animal welfare approved -- A new seal instituted by the nonprofit Animal Welfare Institute ensures that the animals were raised on independent farms and were given seasonal access to the outdoors. It also assures the humane treatment of animals at all stages.
  • Natural -- This does not really mean anything in regard to how the cattle was raised. The USDA’s policy is that all fresh meat is natural, and it can’t contain any artificial flavors, colorings, or preservatives.

What can I do?

Choose hormone-free beef and rBGH-free dairy products at the supermarket. Foods that carry the “USDA-certified organic” label cannot contain any artificial hormones. When purchasing sustainably raised foods without the "organic" label, be sure to check with the farmer to ensure no additional hormones have been administered.


  • In 2005, 32.5 million cattle were slaughtered to provide beef for US consumers. Scientists believe about two-thirds of American cattle raised for slaughter today are injected with hormones to make them grow faster.
  • The EU actually has banned the use of artificial hormones to fatten cattle and bring them to maturity faster.


  • Facts Concerning the Production of Organic Beef
  • Why Use Growth Hormones?
  • Hormonal growth promotants and beef
  • Realizing the impact of injection site lesions
  • Beef labels