The Organic Trade Association (OTA) reports that consumers purchased more than $50 billion worth of organic products in 2018. With so much money being spent, it's tempting for many farmers to misuse the organic label. How can you tell if the products you buy truly are organic? Here are a few things to look for:
USDA Organic Process
In the United States, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) certifies organic foods. They do this based on guidance from the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB). Further, the NOSB consists of individuals appointed to five-year terms by the Secretary of Agriculture. Among the members of this group are organic farmers as well as consumer advocates and traders of organic products.
The NOSB oversees the National Organic Program (NOP). The goal of this program is to ensure uniform standards for organic farmers. Through the NOP, inspectors are able to verify that farmers meet the requirements set forth in the Organic Food Production Act (OFPA), the National Organic Program Handbook, and other USDA regulations.
Allowed and Prohibited Substances
The NOSB is responsible for determining which substances may or may not be used in organic livestock or crop production. Indeed, anyone may submit a petition to add or remove a substance. The board will then review those substances and make a recommendation to the USDA.
The National List of Allowed and Prohibited Substances includes items that have been reviewed by the NOSB and subsequently approved or disapproved. Every item on the list goes through a sunset review period every five years. At that time it will be either extended for another five years or removed from the list.
USDA certified foods will meet specific guidelines. When it comes to meat, animals must:
- Be raised in environments that accommodate their normal behaviors
- Consume only 100% organic food
- Not be given any artificial hormones or antibiotics
Processed meats must also be free from artificial:
- Non-agricultural ingredients, unless specified in the national list
Grass-Fed vs. Organic Beef
Since organic meat must be raised in natural environments, it's easy to assume that grass-fed varieties are also organic. Even so, there is a slight difference between the two.
Grass-fed meat comes from animals who were raised in a pasture and fed only grass. Organic meat may also come from pasture-raised animals, but that doesn't mean they have eaten only grass. Some organic farms also feed their animals soy, corn, or other types of feed. This means that grass-fed meat may not necessarily be organic, and vice versa.
Organic, grass-fed meat comes from animals who were raised according to USDA organic standards and were also allowed to graze naturally. Organic, grass-fed livestock will never be fed corn, grain, or any other substance.
USDA Seal Information
Foods that meet the specifications set forth by the NOP may be labeled as "certified organic." Foods with this label must contain at least 95 percent organic ingredients. Those containing at least 70 percent organic ingredients may be labeled as "made with organic ingredients" instead.
To determine if foods meet USDA organic requirements, look for the official USDA organic seal. The color version of this seal consists of the words "USDA" in green letters on a white background on top, and "ORGANIC" in white letters on a green background underneath. A green field with white lines representing rows of crops will be present on the seal as well. Alternatively, organic farmers may use a black and white version of this seal.
The penalties for using a certified organic seal on non-organic items can amount to more than $17,000 per incident. To sway consumers, some producers use a very similar seal. Accordingly, you should always check the seal on any products you buy to ensure they are not counterfeits.
Beyond USDA Certification
The USDA does have very strict guidance in place for certifying organic foods. However, they are nowhere near as stringent as the guidelines for achieving the Australian Certified Organic (ACO) standard.
The Australian Certified Organic standard is recognized as one of the strictest in the world as it pertains to organic food production. Like the USDA standards, it requires that products contain at least 95% organic ingredients. Unlike the USDA however, the remaining five percent must meet very strict standards that include:
- Being all natural
- Meeting certain processing standards
- Having no GMOs or synthetic ingredients
When you choose foods that meet ACO standards, you are getting an even higher quality product than one meeting only USDA standards. Remember that ACO products will almost always meet the standards set forth by the USDA, but that USDA certified organic foods rarely conform to those of the ACO.
Achieving ACO Certification
The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources accredits certain organizations to certify organic food production. One of them is the non-profit group Australian Organic, which also publishes the ACO.
Those that achieve ACO certification will be authorized to carry the BUD logo. This logo symbolizes a leaf sprouting from the ground along with the words "Australian Certified Organic". Like the USDA seal, the BUD logo comes in both green and black-and-white versions.
Cleaver's Organic Advantage
At Cleaver's Organics, we are proud to have achieved both USDA certified organic and ACO standards. Our free-range cattle are pasture-raised and feed on grass that has no artificial pesticides or fertilizers. Free from growth hormones, antibiotics, or other synthetics, they produce healthy, delicious beef that is void of any other chemicals or additives. In addition, we give them only fresh, clean water, and ensure they receive plenty of sunlight each day.
Not only is this meat healthier for you, but we believe it tastes better also. When you purchase our products, you can also feel good knowing that our animals were raised humanely.
At Cleaver's Organics, we ship throughout the Continental United States and invite you to try the difference between USDA and ACO organic for yourself. Contact us today to place an order or to learn more about our healthy, organic meat options.