You Wouldn’t Believe What Goes Into Non-Organic Meat!!
by Vic Shayne, PhD
Eat organic if you know what’s best for your health. If you own a restaurant, consider switching to organic sources. It may be more money, but the alternative is unsettling, to say the least. When you find out how non-organic cattle are treated, you’ll THINK TWICE before biting into your next steak or burger. Top on the list is the fact that cows are ruminants and are, biologically speaking, NOT MEANT to eat meat. But if you’re beef is not organic, your cattle are eating pork, horse, grease and all kinds of other cheap feed, not only making them unhealthy, but passing along this ill health to you, the consumer.
Unlike producers of “natural” meat products, which are minimally processed and free of preservatives and additives, organic producers must be certified annually for compliance with organic standards to raise, feed and process their livestock. Organically raised cattle also must be tracked from birth to consumption.3 Conventional beef is much, much worse, with hardly any oversight. It’s astounding how cattle, which you end up eating, are treated.
James A. Riddle, Endowed Chair in Agricultural Systems, University of Minnesota, writes, “It is totally unnatural to feed them animal by-products and manure, but that is exactly what high output industrial factory farms, especially dairy farms, are doing, since these are cheap sources of protein. Farmers, including organic farmers, that feed pasture, hay, silage, and grain concentrates are taking steps to minimize risks of BSE… There are significant differences between organic and industrial, non-organic meat production. To begin with, there is an absolute ban on the feeding of mammalian and poultry slaughter by-products to organic mammals and poultry. This contrasts with non-organic regulations, which still allow the feeding of cattle and other slaughter by-products to cattle and other livestock. The FDA banned the feeding of cattle brain and spinal tissue to cattle in 1997, and have publicly stated that they will ban blood, poultry litter, and human food wastes, but they still allow the following materials to be fed to non-organic cattle:
- Gelatin (rendered from the hooves of cattle and other species
- Fats, oils, grease, and tallow (from cattle and other species)
- Poultry and poultry by-products
- Rendered pork protein
- Rendered horse protein
- None of the items listed above may be fed to organic cattle or other organic livestock.
Non-organic milk replacer commonly contains spray dried blood plasma and blood serum from cattle and hogs. The FDA is now moving to ban this practice. Research in Europe has shown that BSE can be transmitted by blood, which is why any U.S. citizen who has traveled to a country with BSE is prohibited from donating blood.”1
On the contrary, organic calves are fed organic whole milk. If milk replacer is ever used, it’s only for an emergency supplement and the National Organic Program (NOP) regulation requires that the milk replacer contain no non-milk products, no antibiotics, and no products from rBST treated animals. NOP regulation, section 205.236.c, requires that all organic livestock operations must maintain records “sufficient to preserve the identity of all organically managed animals and edible and non-edible animal products produced on the operation.” Section 205.103 further requires that all organic operations, including those with livestock, maintain records which “fully disclose all activities and transactions” and “demonstrate compliance with the Act and regulations.”1
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.2
The Organic Trade Association reports, “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.”2
Riddle says, “This means that records kept by organic livestock producers must track all animals, including the source(s) of the animals; the sources and quantities of feed; all medications; and all products produced and sold. These records are reviewed at least annually by an inspector representing a USDA-accredited certification agency. In order to produce organic livestock feed, feed mills must be inspected and certified. If they produce both organic and non-organic feed, they must implement procedures, documented with written records, to prevent the commingling of organic and non-organic feed. This includes steps to clean storage bins and mixing and bagging equipment prior to producing batches of organic feed. Organic feed mills also must prevent the contamination of organic feed with antibiotics, hormones, slaughter by-products, and insecticides which may be added to non-organic rations. They must also ensure that rodenticides and insecticides used in the facility do not contaminate organic feed.”1
There is also a big difference when it comes to slaughtering of cattle. Organic beef must be slaughtered in slaughterhouses which are certified organic, requring clean, empty equipment without any contact with non-organic meat or any materials that are prohibited. Strict records are required “to protect organic integrity. If a plant can prove that it can segregate organic animals and meat products and take all steps necessary to protect organic integrity, then it can be certified.”1
Too many people believe, or have faith in the “fact,” that our government is protecting us from cattle-borne diseases. This simply is not so. Riddle points out, “Nearly 36 million cattle were slaughtered in the United States in 2002, yet only less than 20,000 were tested for BSE. In the first 7 months of 2003 in Washington state, USDA tested no cattle for BSE. At Washington state’s largest slaughterhouse and at two facilities owned by Tyson, there were no BSE tests in 2002 or 2003.” BSE is the bacterial disease that infected the brains of cattle in an epidemic only a few years ago. By comparison, 100% of cattle are tested in Japan. About 75% are tested in Germany and France. All cattle over 36 months are tested in the United Kingdom, but only HALF OF A PERCENT of U.S. cattle are tested.
Other than giving up beef altogether and going vegetarian, Riddle advises, if you are going to eat beef, “Know the farmers who raise your meat. Buy meat from farms which do not feed animal by-products, including organic farms. Shop at your local food coop. Look for local, grass fed meats at the farmers market. Ask your butcher where the meat comes from and how the animals were raised. Demand that country of origin labeling be implemented. Demand that the practice of feeding animal by-products to ruminants be strictly prohibited. After all, cows are vegetarians!”
- Riddle, James A., “Why Eat Organic Meat? University of Minnesota, misa.umn.edu/vd/whyorgmeat.html
- Organic Trade Association, “Facts Concerning the Production of Organic Beef,” 2008
- Doering, Christopher, Organic Consumers Association, “American Consumers Hungry for Organic Beef,” Jun 04
Over the past 24 years, James A. (Jim) Riddle has been an organic farmer, gardener, inspector, educator, policy analyst, author, and consumer. He was founding chair of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association, (IOIA), and co-author of the IFOAM/IOIA International Organic Inspection Manual. He has helped train hundreds of organic inspectors throughout the world.