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June 2, 2005: We have finally approached a time
when organic food is in high demand and sustainable agriculture
is a growing practice in America’s heartland. This was needed
years ago, before we contaminated our food supplies to the point
that we can’t guarantee purity under any circumstance. It
was mentioned a few times in passing conversations that the Midwest
model is not a good candidate for producing organic grass-fed beef
products because of cross-contamination issues and industrial production
practices. The fact is that small farmers in the Midwest are in
a better position to produce beef organically, and the young farmers
replacing the aging ones seem to have a stronger sense of environmental
stewardship. Physicians and researchers now publicize and promote
the benefits of a healthy diet, free from chemicals, drugs, preservatives,
antibiotics and synthetic additives. Many consumers shopping for
healthier foods are falsely led to think that the all-natural beef
at the local supermarket is the answer to healthy red meat. But
there is a huge difference between the all-natural beef at the grocery
store and organic beef and other choices available within the organic
All-natural grain-fed beef does not have a quality verification
system in place to ensure the purity of the meat. If the mother
cow is treated, the chemical or medicinal substances pass right
through to the calf fetus or through the milk to the nursing calf.
Then when the calf gets older, it could be fed a GMO grain like
Round-Up Ready or BT Rootworm corn. If the corn is resistant to
being sprayed with the Round-Up herbicide and not affected, one
can’t imagine what happens during the digestion of this corn
in the ruminant system of a calf. A typical grain-fed animal is
finished hard on grain (usually corn) the last 180 days before slaughter
to fatten them up. This means the consumer is getting a hardy dose
of whatever was last fed to that “fat” calf through
residual amounts found in the meat.
All-Natural grass-fed beef has proven to be lower in calories,
fat, and loaded with vitamins and minerals. It is great choice for
a healthier lifestyle and eliminates the chances of by-products
in the feed. However, animals are still susceptible to illness,
worms, and lice because pest and disease resistance has not been
bred into the herd. There is no guarantee that the pastures are
chemical free and the cattle are free from insecticides like Pour-on,
which soak into the skin, enter the bloodstream, and permeate through
The highest standards for meat purity in the U.S. are guaranteed
through the National Organic Program. There two types of organic
beef – grass-fed and grain-fed. Grain-fed organic beef is
finished on grain, is more expensive (due to high feed costs) and
has a lower overall vitamin nutrient value compared to grass-fed.
However, it only takes 16 months on average to get an animal to
slaughter weight. Nobody can guarantee cross-contamination has not
occurred from carryover from adjacent farms in organic crop production
for grain-feed, even with 25 foot buffers in place. Some organic
farms have mixed operations—both organic and conventional.
Poor handling could result in cross-contamination of feed. As a
solution to this, grain-fed organic beef producers are transitioning
to 100 percent organic, improving feed storage facilities, enlarging
feedlots, adding pasture, shortening the finishing process and harvesting
their own seeds and hay.
Organic grass-fed beef is the most time-consuming and difficult
system to put in place because it take years for a farmer to produce
animals that convert grass to energy for good weight gain combined
with disease and pest resistance. In addition, the organically allowed
weed-control process is largely a creative and manually intensive
one. Cattle have to be rotated, inspected, and monitored frequently
in the pasture for parasite load and illness. Culling rates are
much higher due to animals falling prey to illness, parasites and
poor gain. Farmers are also faced with having to produce tender,
tasty, marbled cuts of meat as quickly as possible on a forage-only
diet which take up to 30 months; much longer than grain-fed livestock.
Producers who take the time to implement this type of system are
widely supported for offering the greatest benefits for sustainable
agriculture, the environment and the health of the consumer. Organic
grass-fed beef systems are promoted through the newly formed Organic
Grass-fed Beef Coalition.
The Organic Grass-fed Beef Coalition is a new group of northern
plain’s producers who are working on a system that offers
a “real” premium to the organic grass-fed beef producer,
promotes grassland and pasture preservation, educates the supply
chain, and conducts research for building a valuable U.S. organic
grass-fed beef product through a “collaborative learning”
team approach. The grassfed beef industry, as a whole, is competitive.
But, for most part, organic producers work together well and support
each other regardless of their production model. For more information,
or call Angela at 712-568-3433.