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Choose organic meat

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Organic meat comes from livestock that's allowed access to the outdoors and raised in a manner that is free of pesticides, hormones, genetic engineering, and other synthetic elements.

How to choose organic meat

  • Just look for the green and white USDA Organic label on the packaging. These products meet the standards of the US Department of Agriculture National Organic Program. USDA Organic meat is at least 95 percent organic, which means not only were the livestock raised hormone- and antibiotic-free, but were fed organically-produced feed as well. Labels such as "free-range" and "natural" are not the same as organic. These claims are not regulated by any agency and are harder to verify.
  • You can purchase meat from independent organic ranchers at local farmers' markets, natural food stores, or via the internet. Though these products may not bear the official USDA, label the meat can still be Organic and may even have higher standards than the USDA. Talk to the farmers directly to see what goes into, and stays out of, their products.

Find it! Organic meat

In addition to the natural food stores, larger companies such as Tyson Foods and Wal-Mart, are beginning to introduce organic products, while an increasing number of local grocers offer organic sections. [1] Check out these retailers and listings of local farms and farmer's markets that offer organic meats.

Choosing organic meat helps you go green because...

  • Organic farming eliminates pesticides, fertilizers and other synthetic agents that pose both environmental and health risks.
  • It supports farmers and producers that employ organic practices.

Organic meat products are no longer confined to specialty stores. Nearly 73 percent of all supermarkets offer organic choices.[2] Though organic meat sales only represent 2 percent of the Organic industry, only 0.22 percent of overall meat sales, sales are expected to increase now that larger distributors are beginning to carry this option.[3]

The USDA defines organic meat as that which is raised without antibiotics, growth hormones, or pesticides.[4] In livestock, antibiotics are not only used to treat illness, but to promote growth as well.[5] Often livestock receive regular doses of antibiotics regardless of their health.[6]

Livestock are the largest consumers of corn in the United States. Large amounts of chemical fertilizer are necessary to grow the vast quantities of corn for animal feed. In addition to degrading the land, the toxic nitrates and phosphates in these fertilizers can contaminate groundwater. If chemical fertilizers were used only on crops that were going to human consumption rather than livestock, water pollution from fertilizers would drop by at least 60 percent.[7] Organic livestock is fed organic feed, which is grown with fewer fertilizers.


With the increased demand for organic foods, domestic products alone cannot always meet the need. The US spends about 1 billion dollars annually to import organic food.[8] The 1,500 miles that the average food item must travel to the grocer, along with the resulting greenhouse gases emitted in transit, can outweigh the benefit of buying organic.[9][10]

Larger corporations such as Wal-Mart are capitalizing on the organic trend and providing environmentally-friendly options. However, in the attempt to provide low-cost products while maximizing profit, these companies could potentially decrease the integrity of organic standards.[11]

In the December 2006 issue of The Economist, Norman Borlaug, known as the "father of the green revolution," argued that the use of synthetic fertilizers was actually beneficial to the environment. Without the use of fertilizers in Organic farming, crop yields decrease, while the amount of land used increases.[12] His stats have also been challenged by a 2008 report by the Agronomy Journal, which concluded that many organic, low-input crops can yield as much dry matter as conventional crops (and sometimes more) given the right weed control conditions.[13]

Related health issues

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) estimates that 5,000 people per year have prolonged illnesses attributed to the use of antibiotics in certain poultry.[14]

Studies into the health benefits of organically-produced foods are beginning to confirm the upsides of these eco-choices. The QualityLowInputFood Project recently found that antioxidant levels (key in reducing the risk of heart disease and many cancers) were 40 percent higher in organic fruits and vegetables and 90 percent greater in milk from organically-fed herds.[15] A report by Pesticide Action Network North America found that American consumers are exposed to toxic chemicals known as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) as many as 70 times a day. POP exposure has been associated with immune system suppression, nervous and hormonal system disorders, reproductive system damage, and various cancers, including breast cancer. The leading fruits and vegetables contaminated by pesticides are spinach, radishes, summer squash, winter squash, cantaloupes, and cucumbers.[16]

Meat can contain as much as 14 times more pesticides than plants.[17] When livestock eat plants treated with pesticides, the chemicals are stored in their fatty tissue.[18] This build-up concentrates the amount of pesticides present in the meat and can be passed on to the human consumer. A 2002 USDA study showed that 15 percent of meat tested contained detectable pesticide residue. Most of the residues came from banned chemicals like DDT, which can persist for long periods in the environment. [19]


  • DDT: Also known as its primary metabolites DDE and DDD, DDT is a popular synthetic pesticide used by farmers beginning in the 1940s. Prolonged exposure to DDT can affect the nervous system and cause liver damage. However, the bigger concern is that DDT accumulates in the environment and can take years to breakdown.[20] The publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, which reported that DDT affected every level of the ecosystem and became more concentrated as it moved up the food chain, caused concern over the widespread use of the pesticide. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) banned DDT in 1972.[21] Though it is banned in the US, DDT is still used in some countries.[22]
  • persistent organic pollutants: POPs are toxic chemicals that were, and in some instances still are, used in agriculture for pest and disease control and crop production, as well as in manufacturing. Although many POPs have been banned, they remain in the environment and global food chain, easily traveling via wind and water.[23]

External links


  1. The New York Times - The Range Gets Crowded for Natural Beef
  2. Science News - Federal Government Launches Organic Standard
  3. The New York Times - The Range Gets Crowded for Natural Beef
  4. US Department of Agriculture - organic food standards and labels: the facts
  5. Sierra Club - Clean Water and Factory Farms:57Reports and Factsheets
  6. The Green Guide - Product Report: Meat
  7. Kneidel, S. and Kneidel, S.K.: "Veggie Revolution", page 23, Fulcrum Publishing, 2005
  8. Environmental Defense - Help Farmers Make the Transition to Organic
  9. Sustainable Table - The Issues: Fossil Fuels & Energy Use
  10. Medical News Today - Organic Food Miles Take Toll On Environment
  11. Business Week - Wal-Mart's Organic Offensive
  12. The Economist - Food politics: Voting with your trolley
  13. Agronomy Journal - Organic and Conventional Production Systems in the Wisconsin Integrated Cropping Systems Trials: I. Productivity 1990–2002
  14. Center for Science in the Public Interest Antibiotic Research Project (CSPI) - Human-use antibiotics are used to treat animal disease
  15. Weil Lifestyle - Organic Foods Have More Antioxidants, Minerals
  16. Pesticide Action Network North America - "Nowhere to Hide" media release
  17. McCarthy, C. "Dioxin burgers," The Washington Post 24 September 1994
  18. Kneidel, S. and Kneidel, S.K.: "Veggie Revolution", page 126, Fulcrum Publishing, 2005
  19. Natural Resources Defense Council - Is Organic Food Worth It?
  20. US Department of Health and Human Resource - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: How can DDT, DDE, and DDD affect my health?
  21. US Environmental Protection Agency - History: Pesticides and Public Health
  22. US Department of Health and Human Services - Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry: DDT, DDE, and DDD - Potential for Human Exposure
  23. US Environmental Protection Agency - Persistent Organic Pollutants: A Global Issue, A Global Response