Daily News Archive

Organic Beef Curbs Mad Cow Disease Fears
(Beyond Pesticides, January 14, 2004)
Although the discovery of Mad Cow disease in the U.S. has prompted the USDA to consider revising conventional beef production and handling procedures, it could take years to implement nationally and even longer to ensure compliance by all producers, according to the Organic Trade Association (OTA). USDA certified organic beef, however, already meets tough production standards. Concerned consumers are catching on quickly to the choice at hand, with interest in organic beef seeing a steady increase over the past two weeks.

"The 'USDA Organic' seal may be little, but it carries a big message: the organic product being purchased is fully traceable, has passed rigorous inspections, and, in the case of organic beef, has never been fed any animal by-products in any form," says Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of OTA, the business association representing the $13 billion organic industry in North America.

The USDA's National Organic Standards, which were implemented on October 21, 2002, include the following rigorous standards for organic beef production:

(1) In effect for an animal's entire life, organic practices prohibit feeding animal parts of any kind to any animals that, by nature, eat plants. While the practice of feeding mammalian protein in feed intended for cows and other cud-chewing animals was banned by the USDA in 1997, enforcement of the ban has lagged. Furthermore, byproducts of chickens and pigs that are fed mammalian protein are allowed in feed for conventionally raised cows. Beef sold as organic must come from animals raised organically from three months prior to birth. In other words, organic beef is born from animals that have received organic feed from at least the last third of gestation.

(2) The organic production system provides traceability of each animal from birth to sale of the resulting meat. Each cut of organic meat and meat byproduct can be traced back to its origin. If there were ever a question about the safety of an organic meat product, removal from the food supply would be swift and efficient.

(3) National organic standards require federal government oversight of all production and handling systems. All production and handling operations must undergo onsite inspections and have documented farm and operating plans in place in order to be certified organic. The standards specify all feed, production and handling requirements.

(4) The guiding philosophy of organic production is to provide conditions that meet the 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.

(5) Other practices allowed in conventional beef production are forbidden in the organic system. Forbidden conventional practices include: feeding plastic pellets for roughage, feeding formulas containing manure or urea, and the use of antibiotics and growth hormones.

(6) All meat labeled is 100 percent organic. For example, if a consumer purchases organic hamburger, it means all of the meat has been produced organically. If meat is listed as organic in a product labeled as "made with organic meat," 100 percent of that meat must be organic, even if other ingredients within the product are conventional.

While there is a plethora of "natural" meat labels in the marketplace, only meats that are labeled as "organic" can ensure consumers they meet all of the rigorous standards set forth by the federal regulations (note-the use of the actual green & white 'USDA Organic' seal by producers and manufacturers on packaging is optional).

While the retail price of organic meat is generally greater than conventional, to many consumers, the greater peace of mind is priceless. Tighter regulatory practices that will be implemented over the long-term in the conventional meat industry will inevitably raise beef prices across the board. The price of organic beef already reflects the true cost of a production system that protects the health of animals and people.

For more information, contact Holly Givens, 413-774-7511, ext. 18, or see http://www.ota.com or http://www.theorganicreport.org/.

For more information on Mad Cow disease and its possible link to pesticides, see "Mad Cow Hits the U.S., Some Believe Disease Is Linked to Pesticides" Beyond Pesticides' Daily News from January 5, 2004.