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Feb 5, 2007 11:22 AM

organic vs. natural

I normally buy most of my meat as organic meat but the shopping possibilities here in San Diego are relative limited (Wholefoods and Jimbo). But there are many shops (TJ, Henrys etc.) which sell natural meat (and claim that it is minimal processed, free of antibiotics, pesticides, from grass fed animals etc.). I know that the "organic" meat includes certain processes and certifications which means it is controlled and nobody can claim something is organic if it is not organic. By searching on the web it looks like that there is no similar process for the "natural" meats. Does this mean that more or less everbody can claim some meat is "natural" with out any kind of evidence of the claims (e.g minimal processed, free of antibiotics, pesticides, from grass fed animals etc) or did I overlook some regulation for "natural" meat and it has a comparable standard as "organic" meat.

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  1. There is no regulatory organization or body that polices the use of the word "natural." It is often abused and misused as a ruse (-- ya liked that? didntcha?) to trick unsuspecting consumers into paying more. Not to say all brands use misleading tactics; I'm sure there are "natural" ingredients, process, etc., but again it never defined or enforced.

    1. "Natural" is a term not a certification which means McDs or Bud could use it to sell product. I'm sure someone out there has more details, but if you poke around a little i imagine you'd be sick to find out the kind of stuff thats labeled "natural".

      1. There are laws which govern the use of the term "organic" in foods. (Not in all advertising.) They were finally arrived at after some battles royal but you can look them up and they are as clear as any of those regulations ever are to non-lawyers.
        Natural is a squishy term. Arsenic, cyanide and mercury are natural but in high enough concentrations, they kill. A peach is natural but if you process the hell out of it at what point do you say "not natural any more."?
        I like Michael Pollan's rule: eat like your grandparents ate. Avoid processed foods and stuff that comes from far away. Buy local seasonal foods that encourage local small farmers whenever you can.
        Somewhere between "organic" and natural, you have to make your own food choices.
        Example: my neighborhood actually has home milk delivery. Butter, eggs, yogurt, etc. The small farm that provides it is within an hour or so of Washington DC. They also deliver meat produced by them or neighboring farms. Pastured, humanely-raised, no hormones, the real deal. None of these farmers has organic certification but they explain their farming methods on the website you order through and you can visit the farm. I'd rather buy from them than buy factory-farmed certified organic at supermarket chains such as Whole Foods. It's not only cheaper but it supports greenspace near cities, small farms, and sustainable agriculture. It's not trucked or flown in from across the country or the world using up petroleum.
        Shopping at farmers' markets does the same thing. As I bought more and more of my food this way, I ate less and less processed food and less from supermarkets. The labels became immaterial because I knew where my food was coming from. In a lot of cases I know the names of the people who grew it. They care about their farms and sometimes they really just hate paperwork. So I stopped worrying about it because I trusted them.

        2 Replies
        1. re: MakingSense

          I definately agree when possible, buy local. Some of your local farms might not have the organic certification because it takes two years of proving you are organic before you can use the label, also there are stipulations like not having any non-organic farming taking place uphill or in a certain radius of the farm desiring the certification. That being said, you cannot be certified organic and "factory farm", the certification encompasses farming practices and conservation methods. So if you are unable to get to farmers markets or dont know of any or dont have the time or desire to do so, definately buy organic, even if it is in some huge grocery chain. The more we buy organic, the higher the demand, the better off everyone is.

          1. re: Carmelizedbunions

            That's not completely true. As demand has risen for certain organic products as we saw recently with the organic spinach e-coli crisis, producers were using large scale factory farming methods which are, in the end, damaging to the soil and the environment in many ways.
            Fortunately, there is a middle ground in small scale agriculture that is showing a great deal of promise called integrated pest management that allows very limited use of certain pesticides under certain circumstances. For instance, there are some heirloom apples that can't be raised without pesticides. No one wants to lose these varieties. Other crops can generally do fine except for some instances where intervention is needed. This is different from the wholesale cropdusting or spraying-whether-it-needed-it-or-not of the past. These products can't be marketed as organic but they are certainly raised with care, probably far more care than products raised at organic factory farms which are trucked across the country or the world.

        2. Thanks for the replies.
          They more or less sum up what was also my opinion and I completely agree that it is important to buy local and/or organic. I asked the original question because in San Diego/South CA we have have small chain of grocery stores (Henry's Farmers Market) which sells quite a lot of produce which is organic and made locally. But they only sell "Naturewell Natural Meat" and I looked on their webpage to find out more about their "natural" approach but it is hard to say how close they are to organic meat and I am really interested to have more options to buy organic meat in San Diego than only Wholefoods.

          2 Replies
          1. re: honkman

            I appreciate your dilemma. It's a common one because so much of the clamoring in the popular press would lead you to believe that "organic" is the be-all and the end-all. It takes a lot of investigating to get the entire picture because there's so much grey area.
            What I found out when I was checking into it was that some farms can't get organic certification for their grass-fed, free-range beef, for instance, which is raised with all of the norms that would usually qualify it because some of the grazing land abuts a roadway which could be sprayed by the State for weed control. The State might never spray, but they could, therefore, no certification is possible. I decided that it was more important to look for farms that didn't use the things that I really objected to which are growth hormones and anti-biotics. I prefer the taste of grain-finished beef but that's just a personal preference and it might not be yours.
            It took me a little while to find my sources. A lot of my shopping is like visiting friends. I know where my food comes from and in some cases who grew it. It's a helluva lot cheaper than WholeMegaFoods and I'm supporting local, sustainable agriculture. It was work and a learning experience but it has increased my enjoyment of my food.

            1. re: honkman

              Though "natural" does not have a legal definition, natural meat *usually* means that the animals were raised on a diet of conventionally grown grains, but were not fed hormones, antibiotics, or other animals.

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