What to Know About Organic Meat
Just as when you’re shopping for produce and other grocery items, understanding what terms such as “organic” and “natural” mean when applied to meat can help you make better choices when you shop. Here’s what you need to know about what these labels mean and what you’ll find in our stores.
Where our meats come from.
We regularly verify the claims made by the manufacturers and producers of everything we carry in Native Sun stores to make sure they meet our standards. (See our Product Review Request form to find out what type of information we gather from potential suppliers of our beef, poultry, pork, and seafood.)
We also maintain relationships with the farmers who supply our grass-fed beef and free-range chicken. We sell meat from grass-fed animals that are raised with humane practices in healthy, open environments and with no antibiotics, hormones, or nitrates/nitrites. Our poultry comes from farmers who raise their animals on natural or organic diets free from animal by-products in open-air environments with no antibiotics.
Most of our grass-fed beef comes from White Oak Pastures, a 150-year-old family farm in Georgia. Its farmers are committed to the well being of the animals they raise, and its processing systems were designed by Dr. Temple Grandin, a leading authority on humane methods of handling animals. White Oak Pastures is certified humane by Humane Farm Animal Care, Animal Welfare Approved, Global Animal Partnership, and American Grassfed Association. The farm also runs zero-waste plants powered by solar energy.
Bell & Evans of Pennsylvania is one of our two poultry suppliers. It recently celebrated its 20th anniversary of Raised Without Antibiotics (RWA) chicken and was the first U.S. chicken producer to eliminate the routine use of antibiotics in its broiler chickens. Bell & Evans chickens are fed an all-vegetarian diet with no toxic chemicals. It also opened the first organic-certified and animal welfare-focused chicken hatchery in the world. Read more about its humane animal welfare standards.
Our other poultry supplier is Murray’s Chicken, a family-owned business in New York. Its chickens are carefully raised on small family farms and fed a vegetable-based diet with no animal fats, animal by-products, or antibiotics. Murray’s is Non-GMO Project verified and was the first producer in its industry to receive the Certified Humane label for its chickens.
What’s in a name?
We know how important it is to our customers that they know all they can about what we sell: where it comes from, how it’s produced, how nutritious it is, and how its production impacts the environment.
These are some of the most common meat labels you’ll see:
Organic: To warrant the “USDA Organic” seal, animals must be free of growth hormones and antibiotics; be fed a 100-percent organic diet; have access to the outdoors; and meet animal health welfare standards. Farms and ranches must be certified either by the state or by an agency accredited by the USDA and are visited once a year by a government agent.
According to the organic livestock requirements set forth by the USDA National Organic Program, organic livestock must be:
- Produced without sewage sludge, ionizing radiation, or genetic engineering.
- Raised per the National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances
- Managed in a way that conserves biodiversity and natural resources
- Meet all USDA organic regulations.
The “USDA Organic” seal also means non-GMO. An organic animal cannot be fed GMO feed or given growth hormones and still be labeled organic.
In addition, the USDA requires that organic livestock is raised in a way that “accommodates their health and natural behavior.” This means the animals have fresh air, clean drinking water, direct sunlight, clean bedding, shelter, and space for exercise.
Grass-fed: As the term implies, the animal was fed a grass- or forage-based diet. Nutritionally, grass-fed beef has more healthy omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid and less fat than grain-fed beef. What you may not know is that the animal must have been fed this diet for its entire life. While it’s not strictly enforced, the USDA’s Food and Safety Inspection Services (FSIS) oversee this label’s regulation. The farmer or rancher’s claims that animals are fed an all-grass diet are verified by FSIS, but the verification is not done in person.
The grass-fed label refers only to the animal’s diet—it’s not an indication that the animal did not receive antibiotics or hormones. Look for the American Grassfed Association Seal or other third party verification to assure the animal was raised without growth hormones or antibiotics for it’s entire lifespan. At Native Sun we verify all livestock producers are following a “never, ever” policy.
Pasture-raised: USDA regulations allow the use of this label if a pasture-raised animal had a minimum of 120 days of access to the outdoors per year. Most importantly, there are additional definitions of “pasture raised” that must be adhered to—it’s not enough, for example, to simply crowd animals into any type of outdoor area. Claims of giving animals the required access must be verified by auditors from the USDA. As with grass-fed beef, however, that verification does not have to be done in person.
Some other non-USDA, third-party organizations offer a qualification for labels that ensure animals are raised humanely and have a good quality of life.
Raised without hormones or antibiotics: As with the use of the term “grass-fed,” these claims must apply to the animal’s entire life after being weaned. Documentation must be sent to FSIS with information on how the animal was raised and how the farmer or rancher can validate their hormone- or antibiotic-free claims throughout the animal’s life.
Non-GMO Project Verified: The Non-GMO Project Verification seal on a livestock product ensures the livestock was raised on non-GMO feed.