The difference between meat from organic sources (organic meat) and from traditional sources (conventional meat) is important to understand, for it has health benefits. The internet is full of information on the topic; however, much of this information is presented in a way that makes it even more confusing to understand what is what. The organic meat has USDA based specifications which make it not only safe but also sustainable for the environment. However, conventional meat has turned itself more into a commercial item than a safer choice for humans.
‘Organic meat’ is obtained from animals that are brought up and fed in an organic environment. Organic farmers are not allowed to raise their livestock using synthetic or conventional methods and products. The farmers and ranchers need to take care of the health, welfare and natural behavior of their livestock constantly.
Why Choose ‘Organic Meat’?
The consumption of organic meat rather than conventional meat is a healthy choice, because both types of meat and their resulting products are poles apart based on the types of elements present in them.
Some basic questions which come to mind when thinking about choosing organic meat are: how does organic meat differ from ordinary meat? What exactly is present in organic and traditionally produced meats? What are the benefits of organic meat over normal meat?
The answer to all of these questions lies in understanding how the animals meant for organic meat are raised as organic management ensures the animals have enhanced health benefits over conventional stock when consumed by humans. Organic livestock is raised differently than commonly raised animals by breeders so as to provide a more natural environment.
USDA ‘Organic’ Standards
The USDA has set standards for the proper raising of such animals and provides ‘Organic’ approval when all the requirements are maintained. The standards were formulated by the USDA while considering the basic well-being and humane aspects of animal life.
- Organic animals are generally taken care of from the second day of their life or from the last stage of gestation, especially the animals fated for the slaughterhouse.
- Organic livestock is specifically raised on certified organic land meeting all the organic crop production standards. The pasture needs to be free from any harmful chemicals e.g., chemical fertilizers, pesticides, herbicides etc. so the animals can graze safely and even consume the nontoxic grass in the process.
- Organic cattle are entitled to a good quality of life and need to be accommodated with clean sheds or shelter, along with hygienic drinking water free of contaminants, clean sleeping area or bedding and fresh air.
- Organic producers need to take care of the feed their livestock consumes. It should be 100% organic but the feedlot can be supplemented with additional vitamins and minerals to provide a healthy diet. The ruminants need to consume 30% of their feed, also called as dry matter intake (DMI), from the land they graze on.
- Organic preventive management includes the administration of vaccination to the animals to maintain their health but the organic handlers are forbidden from giving their animals antibiotics, GMOs, growth hormones or any other synthetic chemicals, otherwise the meat and its associated products are not certified as organic.
- If any animal or the entire herd falls sick, the caretakers are allowed to administer the use of medicines, as long as it is not a prohibited substance. The USDA even stipulates that treatment should not be withheld from sick or injured livestock.
- The USDA strictly forbids farmers or ranchers from constricting the ruminants to the animal husbandry. Access to outdoors is a strict requirement for going organic. It is compulsory to provide ample space and time to the ruminants for the entire grazing season, as a consideration for their health. Organic ruminants need to graze for at least 120 days, equal to four months, per year. Otherwise their meat cannot be sold as organic. Chickens especially require freedom of movement, fresh air and direct sunlight for healthy growth.
Conventional American Meat
Have you ever wondered what is in the American meat we consume nearly on a daily basis? What type of chemical compounds are we taking inside our bodies by eating red meat, white meat, beef, chicken, veal, sausages, salami etc?
Let’s us review the most harmful component present in the typical quality meat eaten by millions of American daily. The U.S. government has allowed the use of certain very harmful substances for raising animals, which leads to very poor health and basic life quality of the animals.
Cows brought up with conventional methods, fated for the slaughterhouse and dairy products, are given antibiotics, growth hormones, steroids etc. Such cows are given pig and chicken by-products or GMOs based artificial feeds. Similarly, they are usually confined or caged inside the animal husbandry and even if they are allowed to graze, the land may contain chemicals such as pesticides and sometimes even sewage sludge. As a result, cows contain small quantities of all the chemicals they are exposed to and by eating this traditional beef, we consume all the chemicals in turn.
Egg Laying Hens And Broiler Chicken
Egg laying hens and the broiler chicken raised in poultry farms are given antibiotics and extremely toxic arsenic-based drugs so they can achieve adulthood within 42 days. The chickens are then taken to be slaughtered and their meat sold, even though the natural life span of a chicken is approximately 10 years. The chickens are provided with feed containing GMOs or other animal by-products and are even exposed to pesticides and sewage sludge in the hatchery since there are no land standards on which poultry farm can be built.
Cattle such as pigs, sheep, goat, lamb etc. are also raised in drastic conditions by orthodox breeders and given chemical compounds to keep them alive until they reach the slaughterhouse, leading to a poor quality of life.
Ongoing Debate On American Meat
Since awareness increased about the dangerous effects of common meat production processes, the organic meat industry’s been booming. A section of the American population which is health conscious and nutritionally aware prefers not to expose their internal systems to harmful chemicals by consuming conventional meat. Although the U.S. government and food manufacturing companies insist conventional meat producing practices do not essentially lead to adverse effects on the health of humans, many researches on meat and recent meat-related disease outbreaks in America have provided ample reasons for doubt.
Negative Effects Of GMOs In Meat
The presence of GMOs in basic meat and meat products is a controversial topic. GMOs or Genetically Modified Organisms are produced by genetic engineering. GMOs are unnatural organisms whose DNA i.e., genetic makeup has been changed artificially. Generally, crops are modified with genetic engineering to make them more resistant to the negative effects of nature caused by pests, herbs, droughts etc. However, since these organisms are not natural, many are suspicious about their effects on the human body. Animals are exposed to GMOs through artificial feeds usually made with corn.
The FDA and biotechnology corporations (BASF, Bayer, DuPont, Dow Chemical Company, Monsanto, and Syngenta) which produce GMOs claim they are safe. However, food safety advocates have pointed out GMOs have undergone only short-term safety testing and their long-term effects cannot be determined without extensive research. Some animal model studies have even shown GMOs can cause internal organ damage, slow brain growth, and thicken the digestive tract. In humans the consumption of GMO based foods has led to increase in food allergies and gastro-intestinal problems. Some medical experts are even claiming GMOs may be a risk factor for cancer, but substantial proof of research is still missing.
E.coli Outbreaks In American Beef
It has been scientifically established when ruminants consume GMOs based corn feed, they lose their ability to eject the bacteria E.coli from their system. When the ruminants are given antibiotics, sometimes a few E.coli strains e.g., Escherichia coli O157:H7, which produces the life-threatening Shiga toxin, develop resistance against the drugs. The same resistant strain of E.coli reaches the human body through conventional beef food products and causes illness. In the last decade the American public has witnessed as many as six E.coli outbreaks in meat e.g., ground beef and related products.
Here is a list of same strain of E.coli outbreaks found in meat in the last decade through DNA fingerprinting:
- In September 2007, a multi-state outbreak of Escherichia coli O157 infections was reported by the CDC and the USDA, when 40 people fell ill after eating frozen ground beef patties from Topp’s brand. The outbreak resulted in the recall of 21.7 million pounds of frozen ground beef patties.
- In July 2008, the USDA announced an outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections from seven different states. A total of 49 individuals fell severely ill after eating beef purchased from the Kroger Co. retail stores in Georgia. By June 2008 several beef products equal to 5.3 million pounds from Kroger and Nebraska Beef Ltd. were recalled.
- In June 2009, the USDA announced another outbreak of Escherichia coli O157:H7 in nine different states, which affected 17 individuals, with 12 of them being hospitalized and two suffering kidney failure. The infection was found to be present in beef products by the JBS Swift Beef Company, which recalled 41,280 pounds of their beef products.
- Again in October 2009, several U.S. Health Departments, the CDC and the USDA issued a second E.coli O157:H7 outbreak which affected 21 individuals from eight different states after consuming ground beef products from Fairbank Farms. A recall of 545,699 pounds of the infected beef was issued. It was reported that 19 individuals were hospitalized as a result of the outbreak which resulted in two deaths from kidney failure.
- In January 2010, the CDC announced another multistate outbreak of human infections due to E. coli 0157:H7, which affected 21 people from 16 different states, out of which nine were hospitalized and one developed kidney failure. The source of the infection was found to be the same beef used in many different restaurants provided by National Steak and Poultry organization. The Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) issued a recall of about 248,000 pounds of infected beef products.
- The latest E.coli O157:H7 outbreak occurred in June 2014 and affected 12 individuals from four different states, with seven individuals hospitalized due to health complications. It was found the ground beef produced by Wolverine Packing Company was the source of the infection. In May 2014, the Wolverine Packing Company recalled about 1.8 million pounds of contaminated ground beef.
American Meat Labels
There are many types of labels to identify meat in the U.S. including organic meat labels. Let’s round up a few of the general meat labels and see how they differ from organic meat.
‘Natural’ Or ‘All Natural’ Meat
The label does not hold much merit as it refers to minimal processing i.e., the meat does not have any additional artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives but it can contain GMOs or synthetic drugs.
The label means the meat was obtained from animals fed solely on a diet of grass or hay. The cattle also had continuous access to the outdoors for grazing, but any standards for the soil levels are not stipulated as in organic.
Free-Range or Free-Roaming
The label refers to meat obtained from ruminants which were allowed to freely graze in a pasture and were not caged or confined at all. However, the grazing requirements are not as strictly specified as in organic cattle.
The term cage-free specially refers to egg-laying hens that are not raised in cages, but does not specify if the chickens had freedom to the outdoors, making the label very misleading.
The label claims animals were not raised in confinement and had grazing freedom but no set requirements for grazing are set so the label does not hold much merit.
The label hormone-free indicates the livestock was not given any growth hormones or steroids while it was growing. Ordinary beef and dairy products in America are usually subjected to hormones, however chicken, veal, or pork are not allowed to be given the hormones under the U.S. law.
The certified humane label is a voluntary certification given by the Humane Farm Animal Care, which is a non-profit organization. The aim of the organization is to ensure the cattle fated for the slaughterhouse or to obtain dairy products from is treated in a humane way. The animals are handled gently and given ample space to roam or graze, along with shelter, good diet and fresh water to limit stress. Such animals are not given antibiotics or hormones and are forbidden from being confined in cages or husbandries.