Organic Consumers Association

Why Organic Beef is Safer than Conventional Beef

Why Organic Beef is Safer than Conventional Beef
By Jim Riddle, National Organic Standards Board

Q1. I am very concerned about recent reports of mad cow disease (BSE) 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

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

· 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);
· Poultry and poultry by-products;
· Rendered pork protein;
· Rendered horse protein;
· Poultry manure (which may include spilled feed containing rendered
animal products); and
· Human food wastes[1] (which may contain beef scraps).

None of the items listed above may be fed to organic cattle or other organic

Q2. What about milk replacer? I¹ve heard that non-organic milk replacer
often contains cattle and hog blood. Is this allowed in organic production?

A2. It¹s true that non-organic milk replacer commonly contains spray dried
blood plasma and blood serum from cattle and hogs. Research in Europe has
shown that BSE can be transmitted by blood, which is why any U.S. citizen
who has traveled to a country with BSE is prohibited from donating blood.

Most organic calves are fed organic whole milk. Milk replacer may only be
used as an emergency supplement. If milk replacer is used, the NOP
regulation requires that the milk replacer contain no non-milk products, no
antibiotics, and no products from rBST (rBGH) treated animals.

Q3. I¹ve heard that the USDA is planning to implement a nationwide livestock
tracking system. What kind of records must be maintained for organic cattle?

A3. Traceability is a fundamental requirement for organic certification. 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, 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.

Q4. What about feed mills? Are there any requirements that prevent feed
mills from mixing organic feed with feed which may contain rendered animal

A4. 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, documented with written 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.

Q5. Are organic animals slaughtered in special slaughterhouses?

A5. Organic beef must be slaughtered in slaughterhouses which are certified
organic. As such, slaughterhouses must slaughter organic animals when all
equipment is clean and empty. There must be no chance of commingling organic
with non-organic meat, or contaminating organic meat with prohibited
materials. Records must be maintained of all organic slaughter activities
and steps taken to protect organic integrity. If a plant can prove that it
can segregate organic animals and meat products and take all steps necessary
to protect organic integrity, then it can be certified. It does not have to
be dedicated to slaughtering only organic animals, however.

Q6. Have there ever been any cases of organic cattle diagnosed with mad cow

A6. 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
their entire lives in order to be slaughtered for organic beef. In fact, a
calf¹s mother must be fed and managed organically during the last third of
the calf¹s gestation in order for the calf to be sold as organic slaughter
stock. In the U.S., the only animals which can be converted from non-organic
to organic production are dairy cattle, breeding stock, 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.

[1] All items from the American Association of Feed Control Officials¹
brochure ³Reduce the threat of BSE² available at


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