In the United States, the labeling term "organic" refers to foods or products that have been produced according to United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) regulations. USDA-certified food handlers, processors, and retailers follow regulations that aim to increase sustainability, ecological balance, and biodiversity. Moreover, these regulations ensure that animals are raised in humane living conditions.
Organic or Not? Look for the USDA Certification Seal
Organic foods approved by the USDA are indicated with the organic certification seal. Certification is required in order to label, represent, and market qualifying products as "organic." In order to receive a seal, organic producers must go through a rigorous application process that involves meeting stringent requirements and inspections by a government-approved certifier.
However, the USDA makes an exception for organic producers who sell less than $5,000 a year. While these producers must still follow guidelines for organic food production, they do not have to go through the certification process.
USDA Organic Requirements Overview
Organic producers use natural substances and physical, mechanical, and biologically based farming methods for their products. USDA-certified organic regulations address soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control, and the use of additives. While organic agriculture practices do not guarantee that products are completely free of residues, these practices minimize pollution from air, soil, and water.
In order to receive USDA organic certification, a product must contain 95% or more organic materials. Additionally, organic foods must be grown and processed without synthetic fertilizer, synthetic pesticides, prophylactic antibiotics, or hormones.
In the rest of the article, we will go over the specific regulations addressing farming practices and animal living conditions in greater depth.
Before a product can be labeled "organic," a government-approved certifier inspects the farm where the food is grown to ensure that USDA organic standards are met. Certifying agents review the farm's organic system plan and any findings from the inspection.
Environmental Benefits and Regulations
According to USDA regulations, organic farmers and ranchers must use practices that promote sustainability and minimize harm to the environment. In the long-term, organic production conserves wetlands, woodlands, wildlife, and improves the quality of soil and water. Here is an overview of environmentally beneficial farming practices:
- Organic crop farming practices may include plant waste left on fields (green manure), livestock manure, or compost to improve soil quality.
- Plant rotation is used to preserve soil quality and interrupt cycles of pests or disease.
- Farmers should cover crops and use crop rotation to maintain soil fertility and water quality.
- Sewage sludge as fertilizer is not permitted.
Animal Health Benefits and Regulations
USDA organic regulations reduce disease and promote health in animals. Below are a few highlights:
- Pasture-based diets improve animals' digestive health by reducing acidity in the rumen (first stomach of a ruminant).
- Pasture-based systems have been shown to reduce hock lesions and other lameness, mastitis, veterinary expenses, and cull rates.
- Livestock are managed without antibiotics, added growth hormones, mammalian or avian byproducts, and other prohibited feed ingredients. Managing livestock without antibiotics lowers their risk for infections.
Better Animal Living Conditions
USDA organic regulations benefit animals by ensuring safer and more humane living conditions. Organic producers must raise animals according to the USDA's strict parameters regarding livestock:
- Animals must be raised in natural living conditions. During the grazing season, animals must be pasture-fed and meet at least 30 percent of their nutritional needs.
- Animals must be fed 100% organic feed and forage; ideally, the feed would be grown on the farm.
- Organic livestock must be allowed year-round access to fresh air and direct sunlight.
- Livestock must have clean bedding, space for exercise, shelter, and clean drinking water.
- Animals must be raised on certified organic land that meets organic crop production standards.
- Animals must be raised according to animal health and welfare standards.
Higher Quality Food
According to one academic study, the quality of organically produced food is higher than that of conventionally produced food. Organic foods have lower risk of food contamination with pesticides and concentrations of nitrate. In conventional and non-organic food, pesticide residues remain in the food even after it's washed.
Grass-fed, organic animals also produce meat with better nutrition than conventionally produced meat. Below are the benefits of organic meat:
- Lower in total fat
- Higher in beta-carotene and total Omega-3s
- CLA (CIS-9 Trans-11)
- Minerals Calcium, Magnesium and Potassium
- B-Vitamins Thiamin and Riboflavin
USDA-Certification and Australian Certified Organic
While Cleaver's Organic products are USDA-certified, we are also proud to be Australian Certified Organic. Australian Certified Organic regulations are designed to promote environmental sustainability, improve living conditions for animals, and enhance animal health.
It is important to note that Australian Certified Organic guidelines are stricter than USDA guidelines. For instance, U.S. beef can be called "grass-fed" even if the cattle is finished on grain. At Cleaver's Organic, we guarantee that our animals are raised and finished only on grass and foliage.
Australian Livestock Regulations
In Australia, organic livestock production requires careful consideration of different aspects of the farm business. Organic livestock production involves choosing good breeding stock, using practices that are beneficial for the environment, good nutrition for animals, and whole farm planning.
Overview of Australian Certified Organic Regulations
- No pesticides and chemical fertilizer are permitted in the growing of the animal's feed.
- Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are not permitted in the animal's feed.
- No animal bi-products can be used in feed.
- No antibiotics or growth hormones are allowed.
- Organic food handlers, processors, and retailers must be inspected and verified by an accredited certifying agent.
- A thorough audit trail is required to trace all certified organic products back to the farm of origin.
- Animals must be treated ethically and humanely.
- Australian farms and processors must be fully converted to organic and have been organic for a minimum of three years.
- Australian farms and processors must be approved and licensed by a third-party organic certifier as approved by the Department of Agriculture.
- Annual inspection ensures that farmers and processors continue to produce quality products that do not harm the environment and animals.
Learn More About the Importance of USDA Organic Certification
Cleaver's Organic is proud to meet and exceed USDA and Australian Certified Organic requirements. Our free-range, grass-fed meats are sourced from a group of carefully selected family farmers who adhere to the highest standards of animal welfare. To learn more about what we do, please visit our website.