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.
National organic standards require oversight of production and handling systems. For instance, production and handling operations must undergo onsite inspections and have farm or operating plans in place in order to be certified organic. The standards also specify feed requirements, including what is and is not allowed.
For instance, 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.
To read specific organic livestock requirements, including feed, health care practices, and living conditions, see: www.ams.usda.gov/nop/NOP/standards/prodhandreg.html.
In processing operations that handle both organic and non-organic meat products, processors must segregate their handling of organic and non-organic meat. There also are specified cleaning agents that are allowed and prohibited in such operations.
Organic certification, by a U.S. Department of Agriculture-approved agent, is required for the farm and the processing and handling facilities prior to delivery to retail outlets.
Because farmers and handlers must keep extensive records as part of their farm and handling plans in order to be certified organic, the organic production system offers traceability of the animal from birth to marketing of the resulting meat. Thus, when one purchases organic meat, there is a guarantee of traceability.
Marketing of organic meat
Under national organic standards, when marketed as organic, meat by itself is 100 percent organic. If a consumer buys organic hamburger, it means that all of the meat has been produced organically.