Organics in the News
Certified organic farming enjoys success –
and challenges – like never before thanks
to surging consumer demand, USDA-regulated standards,
and increasing attention to how farming impacts
our land, water, communities and human health.
We’ve asked Jim Riddle to bring his perspective
to our e-pages as a voice from the progressive
center of this dynamic food and farming sector.
“Organics in the News” will be an
occasional series where Riddle shares his insights
in the context of current events.
James A. (Jim) Riddle has been an organic farmer,
gardener, inspector, educator, policy analyst,
author, and consumer. He was founding chair of
the Independent Organic Inspectors Association,
(IOIA), and co-author of the IFOAM/IOIA International
Organic Inspection Manual.
Riddle has helped train hundreds of organic inspectors
throughout the world. Riddle serves as vice-chair
of the National Organic Standards Board, which
advises the USDA on organic agriculture policies
and regulations. In 2003, Jim was appointed Endowed
Chair of Agricultural Systems at the University
He serves as an organic policy specialist for
sources for organic or grass-fed beef
New Farm Locator ™ will help
you find farmers selling meat directly to customers
in your area.
If you need further help:
Eat Well Guide
(Note: after you select your criteria, you must
scroll down to find the farms listed)
Wild.com (pasture-based meats)
||"100 percent of cattle are tested
in Japan. About 75 percent are tested in Germany and France.
All cattle over 36 months are tested in U.K., yet only
.05 percent of U.S. cattle are tested."
2004: If ever an animal were a vegetarian, it is a
cow. They are designed to eat forages. They are ruminants!
It is totally unnatural to feed them animal by-products and
manure, but that is exactly what high-output, industrial factory
farms, especially dairy farms, are doing, since these are cheap
sources of protein. Farmers -- including organic farmers --
who feed pasture, hay, silage, and grain concentrates are taking
steps to minimize risks of BSE (also known as mad-cow disease).
||"It is totally unnatural to feed
[cows] animal by-products and manure, but that is exactly
what high-output, industrial factory farms are doing."
There are significant differences in meat production management
between certified organic, on the one hand, and industrial,
non-organic systems on the other. They deal with what the
animals eat, how precisely they are traced from farm to retail,
and the inspection of feed mills and slaughter facilities.
Let me hit the highlights.
Allowed animal feed ingredients -- 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, and has publicly stated that it will ban
blood, poultry litter, and human food wastes. However, they
still allow the following materials to be fed to non-organic
- Gelatin (rendered from the hooves of cattle and other
- Fats, oils, grease, and tallow (from cattle and other
- Poultry and poultry by-products;
- Rendered pork protein; and
- Rendered horse protein.
None of the items listed above may be fed to organic cattle
or other organic livestock.
Milk Replacer -- Non-organic milk replacer
(used to feed calves) commonly contains spray dried blood
plasma and blood serum from cattle and hogs. The FDA is now
moving to ban this practice. 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 treated animals.
||"If you are going to eat beef,
Records and Traceability -- 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 “sufficient to preserve the identity of all
organically managed animals and edible and non-edible animal
products produced on the operation.” Section 205.103
further requires that all organic operations, including those
with livestock, maintain records which “fully disclose
all activities and transactions” and “demonstrate
compliance with the Act and regulations.”
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
Inspection of Feed Mills -- 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.
Inspection of Slaughter Facilities -- 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
Testing for BSE -- Nearly 36 million cattle
were slaughtered in the United States in 2002, yet less than
20,000 were tested for BSE. In the first 7 months of 2003
in Washington state, USDA tested no cattle for BSE. At Washington
state’s largest slaughterhouse and at two facilities
owned by Tyson, there were no BSE tests in 2002 or 2003.
100 percent of cattle are tested in Japan. About 75 percent
are tested in Germany and France. All cattle over 36 months
old are tested in the U.K., yet only .05 percent of U.S. cattle
There are no rapid tests available in the U.S. Such tests
are being used in other countries, including Japan, Italy,
Germany, France, and the U.K. Tissue samples from the cow
in Washington state were sent to the U.K. for confirmation,
where results were known in a few hours.
When the cow in Washington was slaughtered, its meat went
to eight states and Guam, and it was almost 2 weeks before
test results were known. The meat was allowed to enter the
human food supply while test results were still pending. That
is standard procedure in the U.S.
BSE on Organic Farms?
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
and marketed as organic beef. In fact, a calf’s mother
must be fed and managed organically during the last third
of the calf’s 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.
Hundreds of people in the U.S. die each year of “sporadic
Creutzfeld-Jakob” disease (CJD). New research in Europe,
published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Science,
links a new form of BSE, found in “healthy” cows,
to human cases of brain-wasting disease, CJD.
One clear option is to stop eating beef. While not a big
beef eater, I do not advocate that position. If you are going
to eat beef, eat smart. Here are nine steps to consider:
- Avoid burger chains.
- Avoid ground beef, unless you know how the animals were
raised and what they were fed. If you want ground beef,
buy boneless roasts and have your butcher grind them or
grind them yourself.
- Know the farmers who raise your meat.*
- Buy meat from organic farms or other farms which do not
feed animal by-products.
- Shop at your local food coop.
- Look for local, grass-fed meats at the farmers’
- At a corner store or supermarket, ask your butcher where
the meat comes from and how the animals were raised.
- Demand of our policymakers that country of origin labeling
(COOL) be implemented.
- Demand that the practice of feeding animal by-products
to ruminants be strictly prohibited.
After all, cows are vegetarians!
James A. Riddle serves as vice-chair of the USDA’s
National Organic Standards Board. He was the founding chair
of the Independent Organic Inspectors Association (IOIA).