We are hearing the terms ‘organic’, grass-fed, ‘free range‘ and feed lots lately and in relation to cattle, sheep, pork & chicken. Do you have any idea what this means and have you wondered why it affects you and should you change your purchasing meat requirements to go organic? This is a question I get asked a lot, are you ‘organic’ – no we are ‘grass-fed’ you can not claim to be something that you are not without implications.
Organic is what it says it is, these producers must adhere to strict standards including not using antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, irradiation or bioengineering; they must adhere to certain soil and water conservation methods; and to rules about the humane treatment of animals. Certified organic producers are audited and inspected annually and are subject to surprise inspections to ensure compliance with the strict guidelines. “Organic” and “Natural” don’t mean the same thing. Organic producers work hard to produce quality meat whilst sticking to these strict standards, it also costs them a lot of money to have the herd, flock or mobs or animals certified, in setting an enterprise up like this all animals and property need to be assessed and maintained in this permanent state to maintain the certification, both here (Australia) and in the US.
All products that come off that property will then have the rights to label it ‘organic’, it does not mean however that animal has spent all of its life in pasture, it means that they had access to pastures, not given hormones, no antibiotics or injections. Their diet is based upon naturally occurring grasses, hay and can be given a percentage of grain which also has to be certified organic. Some producers feed their animals significant amounts of grain, a proven way to speed their growth and increase milk production. The more grain in a ruminant’s diet, however, the lower the amount of omega-3, CLA, vitamin E and beta carotene in their products.
It has been said for optimal nutrition, it’s got to be grass-fed. By this it is taken to mean, the naturally occurring grasses limiting gain feeding, that will grow within that specific region, under climatic conditions of the area (not introduced) and on properties that have limited human access. This means, humans walking from one property to another getting dirt & seeds on shoes and they become planted accidentally. If the animal needs a supplement say of hay then it is best to try to buy from within your region so that they still are getting the natural nutrition or grow and cut your own (which is what we do) Raising cattle and sheep on grass, boosts the beef’s level of a conjugated linoleic acid (CLA), a group of polyunsaturated fatty acids found in beef, lamb and dairy products. Over the past two decades, numerous health benefits have been attributed to CLA in animals, including a reduction in cancer, heart disease, onset of diabetes and accumulation of body fat.
What does free range mean? this relates to the captivity status of the animal such as with chickens that are kept in cages against chickens that are allowed to wander over a substantial grassed area so they scratch and peck at the naturally occurring food sources, not just grain, barley and seeds with human feed scraps. For larger animals this means the same, not kept in close proximity to each other as in feed lots , but are able to walk through paddocks that are fenced purely to keep stock from swapping properties. To not be free range does not mean this is bad, neither does feed lots, it puts a different finish on the taste and quality of the meat.
For those wanting to know if you get a tough piece of meat, be it beef or lamb, it can be because the animal was stressed at slaughter or that the butcher has carved against the grain. This will be another topic for later in the week. Regardless, buy meat for protein and pleasure and get the most you can out of the hard work of all producers, ask your butcher, check the labelling and most off all enjoy.