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The Sweet Pursuit

Former Associate editor Margret Aldrich on the hunt for happiness, community, and how humans thrive


Should Organic Cattle Finish on Grain?

 by Julie Hanus


Tags: food (and politics), organics, pasture, cattle, Cornucopia Institute, Julie Hanus,

cowsAccording to the USDA’s new organic standards (released in February), organic dairy cows must get at least 30 percent of their dry matter intake from pasture. No exceptions. Producers of organic beef cattle, however, can put their animals in feedlots for the last four months of their lives. You know, standing on concrete, eating grain, packing on the pounds. I have a word for this, and it is lame.

Luckily, the Cornucopia Institute is on the case and in their signature thorough style, the nonprofit has done far more than just point out the fuzzy logic in the USDA’s organic regulations: It surveyed organic beef cattle producers across the United States. The organization found that 80 percent of organic beef producers never confine their animals to feedlots. (Most never give their cattle any grain at all; only a quarter supplement with small amounts.) The remaining 20 percent of farmers and ranchers that are finishing animals in feedlots, however, “likely produce a majority of the nation’s organic meet supply.”

Here’s the good news: The USDA is accepting comments on the pasture exemption for beef cattle until April 19th. The Cornucopia Institute provides instructions toward the bottom of the page I linked to above. It is proposing a three-tiered labeling system:

1. “Organic – Grain Finished” – For meat from animals that needed the exemption from pasture during the last 120 days (might include finishing in feedlots).

2. “Organic – Pasture/Grain Finished” – For meat from animals that were maintained on pasture until slaughter, obtained at least 30% of their feed intake from pasture during the grazing season but received small amounts of grain supplementation at some point.

3. “Organic – 100% Grass Fed” – For meat from animals that were 100% grass-fed, never receiving any grain in their diet.

Food for thought, as they say.

Source: Cornucopia Institute