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Jan 3, 2001 06:06 PM

Organic Meat dilemma

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We obtain organic meat at a place which is stringent about its purity and vocal about the need for agricultural laws to be reformed to allow for more organic meats, contrary to the industry's lobbying for practices leading to Mad Cow Disease. Imagine our reaction upon leaving the shop to see a truck delivering boxes: the truck had the name of a purveyor from another part of New York. After finding their phone number, I phoned the firm and asked if they offered any organic meats. "No" was their reply.
What is one to do? We wish to limit our exposure to the tainted meats abounding (antibiotics, growth-hormones, genetically modified feed). Can someone recommend a lab which can test samples of their meats to see if they are indeed organic? Is this a function of the Department of Consumer Affairs?
Please offer suggestions!

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  1. m
    Melanie Wong

    Before jumping to conclusions, check to see if the other purveyor does custom butchering/dressing for the organic company even though it does not sell organic meat itself.

    11 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong
      Dan Silverman

      Do you trust your butcher? Do you know exactly what was in the boxes? Why not ask him/her first?

      1. re: Dan Silverman

        It is also possible that the company is simply doing distribution for the organic farm, as some of these places are too small to handle their own distribution. I am very interested in hearing the outcome here. I have been wondering how much the term "organic" is exploited by cheaters.

        1. re: Pat P

          The purveyor stated that their chicken and meats are non-organic. Which city agency should we contact? A lawyer? A lab to analyse for presence of hormones and antibiotics? Really vile. . .

          1. re: Allan Evans

            Allan, All meat is organic. They may just not really have understood what you are asking.

            As regards organically raised poultry, rest easy about the hormones - I believe there are no growth hormones USDA approved for poultry, so really any supplier is actually producing no-growth-hormone poultry whether they advertise it as such or not. As for antibiotics, most big-producer chickens now are vaccinated at birth by a spray that prevents them from producing salmonella. Perhaps in a free-range situation you won't get that - if the chickens were actually hatched there, though most people get shipments of chicks already sprayed. It's a trade-off. How do you feel about salmonella and typhoid?

            Major brand meat chickens are raised with Extremely Strict hygiene standards. I doubt if all that many producers bother with antibiotics to treat disease that appears in chickens, I strongly suspect any sick birds are destroyed. It is much cheaper.

            As for larger animals there is always a fed/state inspector at slaughter.They also inspect the packing plants and groceries. I have worked with these people. They are some of the most deeply committed and diligent people I've ever known.

            All cattle (bovine) in this country are vaccinated - this protects them and you from things like brucellosis and diseases they can pick up at the feedlot from other cattle. You don't hear about people getting Malta Fever or Undulant Fever anymore. This is why.

            As for hormones, it is not at all difficult in most parts of the country to find a producer who raises hormone-free cattle, and to buy a whole or half beef. The bulletin board at your state department of Ag. is a good place to look, or a place to ask - ask for the The "Made in ..whatever state you're in" desk. If you find a restaurant or grocery with "Certified Angus", that beef is hormone free in order to be certified. That is one of its selling points.

            I'm not sure where you're getting your information about BSE. Feed using animal remains have been illegal in the US for a long time. I don't know anything about any industry trying to change that. All depts. of agriculture in this country are basically obessive about screening for this disease.
            There have been NO cases of BSE found in the US. Any food animal with ANY signs of a central neurological disorder is slaughtered and its brain tested for the disease. This is one reason there are govt. inspectors at all slaughter facilities. Feedlots, & livestock markets are also have inspectors and are very good about rerporting any suspicions. This also occurs at hunter checkpoints for deer, as hunters are requested to report any diseased animals they see, and in some "sweeps" they leave the heads behind so that a concentrated test can be made (brain tissue).

            This really is the safest country in the world in which to eat meat.

            But if you are concerned, I'm sure you are welcome to call your state department of agricultre. Ask for Meat Inspection. Oh - many meat inspections professionals are veterinarians, so they really know what they are looking at.

            1. re: Betty

              Yes, all meat is "organic," but that is intentionally misinterpreting the discussion here, which clearly implies: "certified organically raised" meat, i.e., animals raised on grain that has not been sprayed or genetically engineered, without antibiotics, etc. If our commercial chickens are so clean and healthy, then why are possibly as many as 25-35% of all chickens in the grocery store contaminated with salmonella? Ground turkey at 50%? Raw and undercooked eggs are illegal to serve in restaurants in New Jersey, for fear of salmonella. If I am mistaken about this, I apologize, but for now I am not as confident as you are with our food supply. As for hormones in beef, yes, there are growers who are raising beef without these. The issue here is making sure that when we buy hormone-free beef, we are getting what is represented by the vendor. Then I can, in your words, "rest easy."

              1. re: Pat P

                Here's why. Salmonella is present in the blood of most if not all poultry. The amount can increase to dangerous levels in the meat if packing, shipping, grocery storage, home storage conditions are not up to par. Even the meat from free range chickens raised on perfectly organically raised feed can have this problem. It really isn't the feed or the housing.
                You just have to buy from somebody you trust then treat it right.

                One reason I don't buy ground turkey (the main one being that I detest it) is that, for me, it is too higly processed, and the more processing a meat goes through, the more opportunity there is for bacteria growth or contamination by handlers. I also only buy beef ground at the grocery, not the tubes or the pre-formed patties.

                If you don't believe the labeling or advertising on your meat is true, then again I suggest you contact your State Department of Agriculture Meat Inspection division. That's who deals with it - I thought that was part of the original question, do you call a lawyer, etc. The answer is - your dept. of Ag Meat Inspection desk. They will probably send someone out ASAP. If the labeling is incorrect the vendor will have to dispose of the entire lot, and possibly face a fine. Call them. That's why they exist.

                1. re: Betty
                  Christine DiBona

                  OK, I'm getting confused....

                  I've always understood salmonella to be carried in the digestive tracts of animals. A few of the ~2000 types of salmonella (S.Typhi, S.Paratyhpi) can enter the blood of an infected HUMAN but are spread through food or water contaminated by the feces and/or urine of carriers [1]. These are the most worrisome forms of salmonella, the ones which can cause death in the comprimised. In the CDC documentation on Salmonella enteritidis [2], they state that 'Most types of Salmonella live in the intestinal tracts of animals and birds', and then discuss that Salmonella eneritidis infection of the ovaries and contaminates the eggs before the shells are formed.

                  What I don't see anywhere is talk of the BLOOD of the chickens being infected with salmonella. Most examples of cross-contamination in poultry and eggs seem to come from contact with feces:
                  The CFSAN talks about '(c)ontact with feces, nesting material, dust, feedstuffs, shipping and storage containers, human beings, and other creatures all contribute to the likelihood of shell contamination. Penetration into the egg contents by both salmonella and spoilage bacteria increases with duration of contact with contaminated material, especially during storage at high temperatures and high relative humidities.'
                  And we're all familiar with the 'fecal soup' that results when the chickens on a processing line are not cleanly evicerated, and the bacteria living in the digestive tracts come into contact with the flesh of the chickens as they are processed.

                  You state at the beginning of your post that '(s)almonella is present in the blood of most if not all poultry', but I'm not seeing figures anywhere that support that statement. Could you please post your sources?

                  I'm not at all hostile to the general tone of this thread, I just think it's important to know exactly what we are talking about. Like you I believe that the best defense against contaminated chicken is purchasing from a known source, and the same goes for deciding whether or not to believe 'organic' meat or poultry claims. I too would NEVER buy pre-ground chicken, because the USDA allows chicken skin in ground chicken [3], an often highly contaminated source of Salmonella enteritidis.

                  So, being Saturday, it is time for me to load my cooler into the trunk, drive up to San Francisco to the farmer's market where I'll buy some 'organic' chickens from Bud Hoffman's family. They'll hold themn on ice for me until I'm ready to go home, and I'll pack them in ice, along with my bags of clams and Niman Ranch beef, for the ~hour ride home. They'll go from the cooler into their own high-lipped platter, on the bottom shelf of the fridge if I plan on using them in the next two days, or into the freezer if I'm holding on to them longer (I know it's a compromise, but I don't have the luxury of purchasing my organic proteins daily). I think it's pretty simple : I buy from trusted vendors, who are small enough to oversee ALL processes, I take care of the product I buy and I eat in good health.


                  [1] (See 2.Salmonella and the Salmonellosis Epidemic

                  1. re: Christine DiBona

                    Wow, FOOTNOTES!

                    Hey, Bob(TM), Pat, Harrison, longtime regulars: that's the first time, right?

                    1. re: Christine DiBona

                      The ground skin issue is one reason I won't eat ground turkey.

                      You're right about salmonella being intestinal of course. Sorry I wasn't more specific. (I'll blame day 2 of the new middle school semester and the talk with the new boy who draws swaztikas and firing weapons & other scary thing on everything). My personal experience with salmonella is through blood tests - a quick card test that is done by field inspectors by drawing blood from just under a wing. The way it was explained to me when I observed the inspector training at my old job was that since most chickens have it, the tests don't show IF it is present, but if a high amount is present. (The inspectors were cowboys who were deeply insulted at being expected to handle chickens)I live in cattle country and I was taught some of these things when I took my 4-H meat-judging training at the packing plant years ago, and when I worked (until a few months ago when I started teaching middle school), under the state vet and state animal health epidemiologist in the animal industry division at the dept. of agriculture, which is why I encourage anyone with concerns about their food supply to call their state ag office.

                      If you're buying from a single producer, you might ask if they are participating in any of your state's "certified flock" (certified disease-free)programs. It takes considerable effort and record keeping to accomplish this so producers are rightfully proud of being a "certified flock" or "Certified herd", so if you want to know, just ask them. (Not being certified doesn't necessarily mean there's a problem, they just might not export)

                      We don't have a farmer's market, but a fine packer who buys locally and smokes his own bacon and makes his own all-real-meat-no-weird-stuff bologna. The ranchers here generally never stopped the organic thing in the first place. Good grass and a bale of hay is still the order of business. They can't afford the fancy hormones and all that anyway.

                      With great envy of your bag of fresh clams,


        2. re: Melanie Wong

          Thanks Melanie. The butcher prides himself on his trimming and limited but carefully chosen cuts. I fear this would make your suggestion an unlikely but hoped for answer. Sigh.

          1. re: Allan Evans
            Melanie Wong

            I really doubt that your organic butcher does the slaughtering and rough cuts himself, as you say he does the fine cuts and trimming. Worth asking.

            I don't know anything about organic meat standards. But for organic foodstuffs in general, governments have been reluctant to establish regulations because food inspection is mostly based on testing the end product. There are few tests that can establish whether food has been produced organically. The voluntary agencies which inspect organic producers do so mainly on the types of inputs used in production. Very different system.

        3. s
          Simon Majumdar

          In the UK we have an organisation called the Soil Association.

          In the best possible sense they are the organic police. You can call them up and they will have information on all certified organic suppliers. Meat producers must have proven that not only all feed must be wholly organic, but also that any grazing land must not have been treated within a certain period ( I believe ten years ) They also will tell you which suppliers have their meat butchered and dressed at non organic houses.

          As a matter of policy with all the various european food scares, I always look for the Soil Association approved mark on all Organic food I buy. Their measures are so stringent and well policed that one can be assured of quality.

          Is there not a similar organisation in the US that one can turn to?

          1. Perhaps you can cut out the middleman altogether and purchase you meat products directly from the farmer. Are there farmer's markets in your area where you can get your supply?

            4 Replies
            1. re: Liza

              One can find organic poultry now and then at some Greenmarkets but beef and pork delights are harder to come by or are from large-scale mid-Western plants (Colman beef for one).

              1. re: Allan Evans

                Doesn't the Vinegar Factory or something sell Nimann beef. That's a truly high-quality organic product.

                Coleman beef, btw, is not to be despised. It's a little wet, but with good flavor.

                1. re: Pepper
                  wendy jackson

                  Niman Ranch sells beef, lamb, and the best pork I've had in a long time. I think that they have a website, where you can order directly from them. It ain't cheap, but the quality and flavor of the meats is outstanding. Good enough that Alice Waters uses these meats at Chez Panisse.

                2. re: Allan Evans

                  High Hope Hogs out of Pittstown, NJ, has organic Berkshire hogs and sells out of Union Square on Saturdays (and Fr/Wed in non-winter months). Terrific pork loins, ham steaks, non-nitrate sausage and bacon.

              2. I have a fantastic source for Pa. Amish grass fed, certified organic (grazed in beautiful fields) beef and pork. You must buy a certain quantity and the butcher will cut the meat to your specs. You would need freezer access or share with friends. You could spend a day picking it up in beautiful Lancaster County Pa. and meet the farmer and see his family owned farm. Grass fed animals have the healthiest meat you can eat and grass feeding helps preserve the land by greatly lowering the erosion of fields since they don't have to cultivated too often. A win win deal for you and the farmer and no middle man involved so the farmer gets all of the money , gets to keep the family farm , saves the gorgeous Pa. soil and can pass the farm down to his kids.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Claudia
                  Gabriel Solis

                  So what is your great source? (or did you say somewhere and I just missed it?)