USDA Organic Meat: What is It?

In recent years, it seems, retailers have multiplied the number of meat product choices in their stores.  With consumers becoming more aware of where their meat comes from, retailers are becoming more savvy in their marketing techniques.  One technique that has caught on is labeling.  Consumers have been inundated with labels such as “Organic”, “USDA Organic”, “Natural”, “Naturally Raised”, “Naturally Produced”, “Grass Fed” plus many more.  Even the smartest, well informed consumer can be misled with a label.

The USDA Organic label is for foods that have been produced within the guidelines of the “Organic Foods Production Act” (OFPA).  This Act was passed by Congress in 1990.  This states how organic foods are to be produced and processed for the consumer.  OFPA and the National Organic Program serves as the governing body for standards of organic agricultural products.  In order to use USDA Organic labeling the farm and/or production site must be certified by an USDA accredited or private organization.

Standards are in place for those individuals who are producing USDA Organic foods.  Organic livestock and poultry production must follow the same standards as those in organic crop production.  Some of the standards for organic crop production are:

  • Raised without most conventional pesticides, petroleum based fertilizers, or use sewage or sludge based fertilizers.
  • Prohibited substances can not be applied to the production grounds for three years prior to organic production.
  • Genetic engineered or ionizing radiation (irradiated) products are not allowed to be used.
  • Soil fertility must be managed through tillage, crop rotations, and cover crops or supplemented with crop and animal waste or other synthetic materials.

There are also standards in place for USDA Organic livestock and poultry production in addition to the organic crop production standards.  The standards for USDA Organic livestock and poultry production are”.

  • Animals must be raised under organic management from the last 1/3 of the gestation or 2 days of age for poultry.
  • Animals must be fed 100% organic grain and/or forage diets
  • NO growth implants, growth promotants, fed urea, or antibiotics are to be fed or given to the animal
  • NO de-wormers are to be administered
  • Animals may be vaccinated except for antibiotics
  • Must have access to the outdoors and pastures for ruminant animals

Anyone who wishes to use the USDA Organic label and has a gross income of over $5,000 annually must be certified.

When discussing the labeling of the products there are also stipulations that must be followed.  The label can only be used on products that are composed of 95% organic materials.  The products must not come into contact with non-organic substances at any point of production or processing.  Products can carry an “Organic” label on it without following these guidelines.  It is not until a product carries an “USDA Organic” label that a producer faces a fine.  If a producer should display the “USDA Organic” label without the standards being followed for the product being sold, they could face up to an $11,000 fine.

Many producers have found a niche in marketing specialty labeled products.  Unfortunately, many consumers do not fully understand what the label means.  They are willing to pay an increased amount for their food if it carries the specialty label.  The USDA is not saying that foods carrying a specialty label are safer or healthier for you or your family.  It is important for any consumer to understand that the US Meat Industry supplies the safest meat in the world, regardless of where or how it is produced.  Consumers should be confident in any US products they are purchasing for their families.
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Source:
Specialty Meat Marketing Claims: What’s the Difference? By Chad Carr, Larry Eubanks, and Ryan Dijkhuis (edis.ifas.ufl.edu/AN191)