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Aug 23, 2010 08:38 AM

What does 'organic' mean with regards to humanely raised animals?

I am asking b/c Wegmans has started selling organic, grass-fed beef and organic chickens, but -- being the skeptic I am, I don't know if that means the same thing as in Germany, where the guidelines for organic meat are MUCH stricter: any meat that is labeled as organic HAS to come from humanely raised animals.

One of our local meat purveyors, who sells meat from local farms (which is pasture-raised - we have no feed lots or cattle factories in our area), just closed shop and I'd like to continue to feel good about what I buy.

So am I just buying into BS marketing here, or does ORGANIC mean something when it comes to meat production/certification.

(TIA for crushing my naïvety....)

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  1. It's hard to know for sure, alas. Although regulations do tend to cover not just feed, but also care, they are vague and can easily be subverted. The Cornucopia group--an organic watch dog agency--released a now famous (or infamous, depending ;-) report exposing various large organic dairies that did NOT treat their cows humanely, for instance:

    It's best to go as local as possible. All my pork, beef, chicken and eggs (and now milk) come from local farmers either fully certified organic or using organic practicies. I've visited every one of their farms and "met" the animals under their care.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Prairie Gal

      Yes, buy local. But still be careful. I bought some local, "organic" lamb which tasted awful. Turned out it was mutton the farmer was trying to pass off as lamb.

      Seemed kind of self-defeating to me. Whether or not the person they sold that old chopped up ewe to figured it out or not, either way, they were not going to get repeat customers or referrals.

      1. re: ZenSojourner

        "Turned out it was mutton the farmer was trying to pass off as lamb."

        Interesting comment. Here, in the UK, mutton would be the premium product and proudly (and more expensively) sold as such.

        1. re: Harters

          Find organic food that you can visit the farm that is closest to you here at the coop list with links to yours.

          One way to get fresh food is to buy local.

          If you support your local farmers then they can be paid to give you what you want and prove it to you.

          1. re: Harters

            Mutton is quite strong tasting in this country. I. don't know if it's a difference in feeding practices or climate or what. It's very gamy.

            Trying to pass off old dead ewe as fresh young lamb is still wrong, even if there weren't an aversion to mutton in this country

      2. "Organic" does not necessarily mean the animals get to frolic in the fields. Nor does "free range" or "cage free." My understanding from friends who raise chickens is that free range and cage free simply mean that the chickens have access to the outside. But that could mean a very large coop with lots of animals and only a small cat door in it so that the birds rarely venture outside.

        I agree with Prairie Gal. If you are really concerned, visit the farms.

        3 Replies
        1. re: mojoeater

          I wonder about the organic eggs at publix I think produced by 4-grain - they say organic but not free range.

          1. re: smartie

            Once again, "free range" doesn't mean they get to wander around. I kinda take that nomenclature with a grain of salt.

            1. re: smartie

              Organic refers only to what they are fed. There are zero guarantees about the density of chickens per square foot as any different than factory farmed, or that living conditions are at all different.
              They are just fed an organic diet. As already stated "free range" is another vague reference to outdoor access.

              Certified humane eggs are the best way to know that supermarket eggs came from humanely treated chickens.

          2. linguafood - is there then not a national certification scheme in America, such as we have in Europe? As in Germany, the UK's definition of "organic" takes "free-range" a step further requiring the pasture ot be organically maintained, and the general routine use of anti-biotics is prohibited, as well as the humane rearing required for "free-range". I take the view that any definitions of food quality which do not have a statutory basis are not worth a penny.

            5 Replies
            1. re: Harters

              There are a few smaller ones, but not one large national one. I look for certified humane label because I have a friend who went through the rigors of it and she said it was very difficult to get.


              Organic doesn't mean humane, although "certified humane" means organic.

              1. re: chowser

                Chowser, the last sentence in your comment is partially wrong. "Certified Humane" DOES NOT mean "organic". "Organic" concerns itself largely with environmental sustainability; "certified humane" concerns itself with animal welfare. Organic meats CAN be certified human of course but the two can also be mutually exclusive.

                If you're concerned about the meat you're buying, I'd highly suggest trying to get your meat from local farmers whose farms you can visit. If there was one, there's probably another. Looking for a "certified humane" label on your meat is another option.

                1. re: honeyrider

                  I spoke with the people from Certified Humane a few years ago to find out more about the organization. In order to get their certification, at least when I talked to them, the farms must also be organic. It's much more extensive than just being organic. There might be other organizations that are concerned only with animal welfare and they might not be organic but I'm talking specifically about the Certified Humane organization that I linked.

                  I agree that it's best to know the farm you're buying from and its practices and visit it. Many small farms can't afford the time and money to be certified either organic or humane but are both. However, it's not always practical and the certified humane label is better option than buying mass produced factory farm.

                  1. re: chowser

                    Similar situation in the UK, chowser. Whilst for us certified organic is going to be inherently humane, some supermarkets now offer meat under the "Freedom Food" label - these are a set of guidelines drawn up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (which, whilst a registered charity, also has statutory responsibilities in animal protection). They are higher welfare standards than the legal minimums for industrial meat rearing. Not brilliant but better than nothing.

              2. re: Harters

                As chowser said, no national certification, and a rather loose interpretation of 'free-range'. It's a real bummer, b/c in Germany, when you buy organic meat, you get happy meat.

                Guess I'll be roaming the farmer's markets and local farms from now on.

              3. It's defined by the USDA. Organic feed, no antibiotics or hormones, and outdoor access. "Humanely-raised" isn't one of the requirements.

                The biggest sticking point is the no antibiotics requirement - where I live, meat that meets all of the organic requirements except that one is only slightly more expensive than industrial mystery meat while organic meat is as much as twice the price as conventional stuff.

                1 Reply
                1. re: lavaca

                  And, as has been noted several times, outdoor access doesn't mean actually spending any time outdoors.

                2. Organic meat in the US does require some access to pasture, dependent upon geography and the local climate conditions (as per the USDA). I believe there is a .pdf you can download from the USDA website that lists the criteria for organic meat. This link will take you to the Ag Marketing Service of the USDA--just search for certified organic meat.