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Mad Cow: Why Organic Beef is Safer than Conventional Beef in the U.S.

Jan. 4, 2004

By Jim Riddle, National Organic Standards Board
<jriddle@hbci.com>

Q1. I am very concerned about recent reports of mad cow disease being found
in the United States. I¹m thinking of feeding organic beef to my family. Are
there any differences between organic and non-organic beef production?

A1. There are significant differences between organic and non-organic meat
production. To begin with, there is an absolute ban on the feeding of
mammalian and poultry slaughter by-products to organic mammals and poultry.
This contrasts with non-organic regulations, which still allow the feeding
of cattle and other slaughter by-products to cattle and other livestock.

The FDA banned the feeding of cattle brain and spinal tissue to cattle in
1997, but they still allow the following materials to be fed to non-organic
cattle:


· Blood and blood products (from cattle and other species);
· Gelatin (rendered from the hooves of cattle and other species;
· Fats, oils, grease, and tallow (from cattle and other species);
· Milk and milk protein;
· Rendered pork protein;
· Rendered horse protein;
· Rendered poultry wastes;
· Poultry manure (which may include spilled feed containing cattle
brain and spinal tissue); and
· Human food wastes (which may contain beef scraps).

Q2. I¹ve heard that the USDA is planning to implement a nationwide livestock
tracking system. What kind of records must be maintained for organic cattle?

A2. The National Organic Program regulation, in section 205.236.c, requires
that all organic livestock operations must maintain records ³sufficient to
preserve the identity of all organically managed animals and edible and
non-edible animal products produced on the operation.² Section 205.103
further requires that all organic operations, including those with
livestock, maintain records which ³fully disclose all activities and
transactions² and ³demonstrate compliance with the Act and regulations.²

This means that records kept by organic livestock producers must track all
animals produced, including the source(s) of the animals; the sources and
quantities of feed; all medications; and all products produced and sold.
These records are reviewed at least annually by an inspector representing a
USDA-accredited certification agency.

Q3. What about feed mills? Are there any requirements that prevent feed
mills from mixing organic feed with feed which may contain rendered animal
by-products?

A3. Yes. In order to produce organic livestock feed, feed mills must be
inspected and certified. If they produce both organic and non-organic feed,
they must implement procedures, backed up by records, to prevent the
commingling of organic and non-organic feed. This includes steps to clean
storage bins and mixing and bagging equipment prior to producing batches of
organic feed. Organic feed mills also must prevent the contamination of
organic feed with antibiotics, hormones, slaughter by-products, and
insecticides which may be added to non-organic rations. They must also
ensure that rodenticides and insecticides used in the facility do not
contaminate organic feed.

Q4. Have there ever been any cases of organic cattle diagnosed with mad cow
disease?

A4. There were several cases in Europe where cattle on organic farms were
diagnosed with the disease. Upon further investigation, it was established
that the cattle had not been born on the organic farms. They had been
purchased from non-organic farms, and converted to organic production.

In the United States, organic cattle must be fed and managed organically
from the last third of gestation of the mother, in order for them to be sold
as organic slaughter stock. The only animals which can be converted from
non-organic to organic production, in the U.S., are dairy cattle and animals
which produce non-edible products, such as wool. If such animals are
converted from non-organic to organic production, those animals can never be
slaughtered for organic meat.

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