Beef termed “organic” is generally defined that way by the producer, based on the company’s own agricultural practices. If purchasing truly organic beef matters to you, it’s important to research individual brands first before visiting your local grocery store or butcher.
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What is “Organic” Anyway?
Anytime a new nutritional trend arises, marketing messages from various food producers can often be garbled, inaccurate, or outright lies. The organic food movement has not been immune to misleading customers, mostly because a central authority hasn’t established a hard and fast definition of what organic beef is and how it is produced. Organically grown vegetables are less contentious because the animal rights, quality of feed, and antibiotics elements are removed from the equation.
We found a good working definition of organic beef on LiveStrong.com – Organic Beef vs. Natural Beef:
Organic beef must be certified by the USDA to meet stringent standards. The cows must be born and raised on certified organic pasture and fed only certified organic grain and grass. They can never receive any antibiotics or hormones, and they must have unrestricted access to the outdoors. These guidelines are subject to third-party verification and certification must be renewed annually.
That’s all well and good, but the problem is MOST organic beef is sourced from Uruguay. Uruguay’s vast ranching landscape and cheap labor makes it possible to raise free-range cattle humanely and safely. Many of these ranches are owned and operated by American companies, which generally slaughter the meat in Uruguay and then transport it to the United States aboard refrigerated cargo ships. Most people find this acceptable since the beef itself was procured from organic agricultural practices, while others take issue with the nearly 8,000 mile journey it travels to get on supermarket shelves. Cargo ships aren’t exactly environmentally friendly. Plus, there’s a chance the quality of the beef could be compromised during transit.
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There are some free range cattle ranches in the United States. Beef from these ranches tends to be more expensive compared its Uruguayan counterparts, because labor costs more in the USA. Also, most of these ranches are small operations that can’t compete against “feed lot” – or factory farmed – beef companies that can undercut them in the pricing wars. You’ll spend the least on non-organic beef, including “natural” beef, because some liberties can be taken by the producer to minimize costs.
Use the following checklist when assessing whether or not a beef brand is truly organic:
- The cows were fed organic grain and/or grass, none of which were genetically modified
- The cows were raised on a free range ranch, opposed to a factory style feedlot
- The cows were NOT given antibiotics, hormones, or other unnatural treatments
- The brand’s claim to be “organic” is corroborated by a third party, ie. the USDA
- Optional: The cows were raised locally in the United States and transit time from slaughterhouse to supermarket was minimal
Now that you have a good feel for what truly organic beef is, we’ll list a few major supermarkets and meat brands that offer it for sale.
Note: Please double check this list on your own before purchasing any meat at the store. Many companies will change their production, labeling, or feed policies without notice to the public. You might have to visit each meat producer’s website on your own and/or find a third party that can vouch for the quality of a particular company’s product.
- Organic Valley and Organic Prairie – These top brands produce organic beef, pork, milk, eggs, butter, and cheese. The company behind these brands harnesses the power of more than 1,500 organic farmers across the United States. Food from the Valley or Prairie might cost more, but most consumers agree their reputation for selling truly organic food is strong.
- Applegate Farms – Another organic heavy-hitter, Applegate sells organic beef, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, and cheeses. Applegate’s meats – including its hot dogs – are gluten free, perfect for those restricted by Celiac Disease and other dietary needs. Applegate also leads a strong charge to provide schools with healthy foods, and supports “Cooking Up Chefs”, a competition for high school age students with hopes to be professional chefs.
- Frontier National Products and Simply Organic – This leading brand produces organic canned foods, vegetables, sauces, and other cooking essentials. Check out their expansive product line for truly organic ways to compliment your prime rib preparation with outstanding ingredients.
Leading supermarket chains include:
- Whole Foods
- Chase Foods, The “Allergy Free Food Market”
- Grassroots Natural Market
- Native Sun Natural Food Market
Important Note on Organic Supermarkets:
The organic supermarket business is still growing and expanding throughout the country. Some major brands have strong presences in major cities, while organic food lovers in less populated suburban or rural areas might be able to find organics at their local Farmers’ market or a locally owned and operated supermarket. Supporting Farmers’ Markets is a great way to keep the local economy strong and encourage nearby farmers to produce quality, nutritious foods.