Is Organic Meat Worth It?
You may have noticed advertising in the meat aisle for grass-fed beef and cage-free chickens. Whether its popularity is due to Moms shunning pesticides for their children born and unborn or to celebrities flaunting organic diets, there is interest in avoiding some of the effects that mass meat production creates. But because organic meat is not offer a significant improvement in nutrition and the long-term health effects of consuming non-organic meat is not completely clear, is the cry for organic meat justified around the world?
Where Does Your Hamburger Live?
The Access to Pasture Rule gives the following guidelines for USDA certification of organic livestock:
- Access to pasture throughout the grazing season (specific to their geographical climate)
- Diet consisting of at least 30% dry matter intake from pasture grazed during grazing season, totaling at least 120 days.
- No hormones to promote growth
- No antibiotics
- 100% organic feed
- No mammalian or poultry by-products in feed
You may be surprised to know that none of these guidelines apply to non-organic meat. In fact, non-organic livestock that produce dairy products may be confined to stalls for their entire lives. Additionally non-organic livestock may be housed in factory farms, also called feedlots, where consumption of feed that includes corn and meat by-products approved by the FDA is known to occur.
In addition, non-organic chickens used for their eggs and meat can be housed in small dark cages and may be fed genetically-modified feed to increase their weight faster than the average four months it takes to reach slaughter weight. Conversely, organic chickens are given a free range, direct sunshine, open air, and organic feed.
Kristin Schafer of the Pesticide Action Network of North America authored a recent report that found toxic pesticides above “safe” levels in many U.S. residents. She shares, "Many of the pesticides found in the test subjects have been linked to serious short- and long-term health effects including infertility, birth defects and childhood and adult cancers." Indeed, the Cornell University reported than elevated levels of zeranol, a common growth hormone given to animals, was found in girls who began puberty early in the 1980’s; however, a follow up study by the USDA did not corroborate these findings. Despite the lack of research confirming a direct effect on humans, in 1989, the European Community (now European Union) issued a ban on all meat from animals treated with steroid growth hormones, including U.S. beef, which was still in effect as of June 2000.
Cost and Availability
While many may believe in the advantages of organic meat, the cost, at times, doubles that of non-organic, which can be prohibitive. What’s more, the availability of organic meat is still largely restricted. The USDA claims only about 0.5 percent of all U.S. pasture was certified organic in 2008 (although some farmers are unwilling to pay for official certification.) But with Americans consuming about 10 billion animals each year, averaging for a family of four, 120 chickens, four pigs and one cow, there is not enough organic meat to go around.
Do you buy organic meat? If not, why not?
To find stores that may offer organic options to your favorite meat, visit The Organic Consumers Association’s Natural Food Store Listing by clicking here.