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Organic Meat: What Does Organic Really Mean?

Cow in a FieldWhile organic produce, and even organic dairy, often gets the glory, I thought it would be good to talk about what makes organic meat and poultry organic.

If you’ve been tempted to buy organic meat or poultry but you’re not sure what it means, read on! In order to be certified to the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) organic standards farms and ranches must follow a strict set of guidelines. A third-party certifier inspects these farms and ranches annually to ensure the organic standards are met.

Here are a few of the key requirements for organic poultry, cattle and pigs:

  • Must be raised organically on certified organic land
  • Must be fed certified organic feed
  • No antibiotics or added growth hormones are allowed*
  • Must have outdoor access

*Federal regulations prohibit the use of hormones in raising pork and poultry.

Chicken

The animals’ organic feed cannot contain animal by-products, antibiotics or genetically engineered grains and cannot be grown using persistent pesticides or chemical fertilizers.

For details about the National Organic Program and access to the organic regulations, visit the USDA website.

In addition to offering organic options, all the chicken, beef and pork sold at Whole Foods Market® (whether organic or not) has also been certified to the Global Animal Partnerships’ 5-Step™ Animal Welfare Rating Program. This program rates how pigs, chickens, and cattle are raised for meat.

Next time you are in your local Whole Foods Market store, be sure to ask our butchers to point out our organic meat and poultry.

Have you tried organic meat? Why is it important to you?

Blog Updated on 2/19/2015.

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94 comments

Comments

jane says …

I'm wondering if organic meat means that the animals are treated humanly? Or does that not matter. Thank you

Jen says …

is all pork sold at whole foods market organic? I have never seen any labeling, organic or not.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JANE - It absolutely matters. For any meat we sell in our stores, organic or not, the farms must meet our Global Animal Partnership. You can read all about our step ratings at http://wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JEN - Not all the meat we sell in our stores is organic. There should be signage at your local store if the pork is organic or not. If you are not sure, ask a meat team member and they'll be happy to help!

Katie says …

Organic meat does NOT mean that these animals are sent to less harsh slaughter conditions. It just means strictly the above.

Elsa Sell says …

There is nothing (yet) in the USDA regulations on organic feed for meat animals restricting the use of genetically engineered grains! Go check out the USDA regulations!

Jan says …

Whole Foods Market has the best of everything and are no more expensive than most other markets. They go out of their way to accommodate their customers. Love that store!!

Jana Mooney says …

I have actually been surprised by the small amount of organic or level 5 meat available at my local Whole Foods. Will this be changing?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JANA - We're always looking for organic vendors and others that meet our step rating. Our vendors will differ between stores so check with your local meat department to see what vendors they have that meet these standards.

elise del rio says …

I am currently undergoing treatments for cancer and was told that I should not eat meat or eggs containing soy. My question is, do meat and eggs that claim to be organic contain soy, are the animals fed any soy products? What should I look for are vegetarian eggs from chickens that are not fed soy? HELP.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ELISE - Organic eggs can still contain soy, it would just need to be certified organic soy. If you're looking to avoid soy, you'll want to look for a specific soy free egg (which is typically displayed on the package). Vegetarian fed eggs can still be fed soy. Our items differ but my local store carries a brand from Jeremiah Cunningham that has a soy free option that is clearly displayed on the package.

mary says …

gmo-free is not the same as organic. organic pertains to the chemicals used to treat plants/animals. GMO free is entirely different. so - just because soemthing is USDA certified organic, does not make it GMO free.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARY - This is actually not correct. The USDA organic standards prohibit the use of GMO ingredients in any items that are certified organic, along with other components such as pesticides use as you mentioned. Secondly, according to the Non-GMO Project, “GMO free” and similar claims are not legally or scientifically defensible due to limitations of testing methodology. In addition, the risk of contamination to seeds, crops, ingredients and products is too high to reliably claim that a product is “GMO free.” You can find more details on their site at http://www.nongmoproject.org/learn-more/understanding-our-seal/.

eric says …

This is awesome I recently started talking to a coworker who's on an organic diet but without meat and I decided to do some research because I want to better my life. As of June 6th, I am starting an organic diet

James pierson says …

I have been a customer of Whole food for over 10 years buying around $300 in groceries weekly not counting close to a $100 in supplements. Lately I have been very inquisitive about the quality and the reality of statements made about your products due to the poor answers given by some of your employees when asked and usually different depending on whom you ask! This shows lack of knowledge in their part and probably lack of management education and training. I also found a few of your rotisserie chickens being out under a light for over 7 hours which I brought to management attention and he took out of the case. I bring these items up not to criticize or annoy anyone but to inform you that these actions induce the customer to lose faith in a company in which they had relied on for the safety of the products they buy. Now this forces us to get educated so we can check the products and combat the inconsistent answers of your employees with real facts. you have written a good article that partially answers the question most of us customers ask ourselves and others. I found this article by googling the subject. I say partially because although what you say its true I learned directly from the USDA website that there are many other protocols and rules to be followed to be certified organic by a third party. And by the way they are very DIFFICULT to comply. Bottom line I don't understand why a store of your category that has been marketed as one who sells many organic products and has a very strict standard on the other items they do sell would not CLEARLY state this inside their store! The customers rely on your marketing statements and reputation yet a new customer or even the old ones need to buy blindly because there is no store posted information. By store I mean WHOLEFOOD not a poster of some small farm and the owner as the meat clerk pointed out when I asked about the meat. I don't deal with them I deal with you. You need to give me your guarantee of what you are selling because i will come back to you not that farmer he is your problem and you need him to guarantee the product to you as well as inspect once in a while to make sure its true or better yet insist on having their product certified organic before purchasing and this way you will avoid checking. You should be proud to advertise this inside of your store. Why would you not advertise a good thing? It will only increase your customer base and the confidence in your store and the products you sell. I suggest that at least in your meat department and fish dept you will post a sign explaining exactly what you are selling (certified organic, grass fed, grain fed, natural, no antibiotics, country of origin etc) and please don't mention the small tags in front of the meat trays that is not what I mean. I have been told by your meat employee WE ONLY SELL ORGANIC BEEF. Well if that is true please proudly post that in a big permanent sign. In the fish department I was told the fish were natural yet when I continued asking the real answer came out. He then said it was farm raised but in WHOLEFOOD farms that were all natural. I immediately returned all the fish I had bought. I only eat wild caught and assume that is the only kind you sold based on your reputation. So you see if you would consider this it would be a win win situation for you by gaining new and more customer to consume the good things you sell and stand behind completely, avoid misinformation by employees, and for the customer by being educated about what you GUARANTEE and gaining more confidence. You should also consider the same in the hot food department where NO ONE knows if they are eating organic, natural, conventional or a combination. Again most people have trusted your reputation and assume they are eating ALL organic and this may not be true. If it is SCREAM IT TO THE WORLD it will make you unique and gain a larger reputation. But as it is now only God knows what is or is not included in these daily meals. HOPEFULLY SOMEONE WILL TAKE ACTION FOR THE BENEFITS OF ALL!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JAMES - Thank you for the feedback and my apologies there isn't more signage at your local store. I would be happy to pass along your feedback directly to store leadership at your local store since signage is made at the store level. Let me know which location and I'd be happy to pass along your feedback!

Susan Danuloff says …

Do you have ammonia free chicken? Is Free range ammonia free? Need for diet. How much does it cost?

Zoë says …

I have been vegetarian for about 10 years and have recently been entertaining the idea of eating meat again. My reasons for going vegetarian are the treatment of the animals and all the weird/dangerous drugs they pump into the animals. I feel very strongly about this and I am merely entertaining the idea for health reasons. So the fact that the animals aren't filled with drugs is great, but is only half the solution for me. Are the animals treated fairly? Are they tortured for hours or days on end prior to their death like the industrial meat companies do? And where can I find meat that actually meets my personal requirements?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ZOE - We have strict standards for the meat we sell in our stores. You can read more about our standards and our partnership with the Global Animal Partnership at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SUSAN - Our prices will differ between stores so check with your local store to see what their price per pound is. The USDA requires that processors rinse poultry with an anti-microbial after evisceration. This is true for water-chilled and air-chilled poultry. This is regulated by the USDA and is done in accordance with National Organic Standards. Anti-microbials, like chlorine or acidified sodium chlorite, are used to help control the spread of bacteria. Shoppers should consult the USDA website for more information: http://www.fsis.usda.gov/.

Jacki Bourgeois says …

Hello, I went to buy red meat from 2 different whole food stores, and 1 person told me that the non-organic meat was finished off 90 days, with corn, potatoes, etc, and then the next store told me that the non-organic meat was finished off, the 90 days, with alfalfa, and NO Corn, Please let me know what it really is. Thank you!! Jacki

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JACKI - Since we have different vendors for our meat, the feed will differ between vendors. Even if they are stores in the same city, it is possible that you received a varied answer since the vendor is different. If you are concerned about feed, I would suggest looking for grass-fed beef as it will be grass finished as well.

Carlene Dowell says …

Are animals who are given worm medication still considered organic if all other criteria is met?

mlb says …

Is organic chicken washed in a bleach bath?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MLB - The USDA requires that processors rinse poultry with an anti-microbial after evisceration. This is true for water-chilled and air-chilled poultry. This is regulated by the USDA and is done in accordance with National Organic Standards. Anti-microbials, like chlorine or acidified sodium chlorite, are used to help control the spread of bacteria.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CARLENE - Under the National Organic Program Regulation, parasiticides can only be used in breeding and dairy stock in emergency situations (they can never be used for slaughter stock), and when other preventative measures have been attempted. Milk from treated animals cannot be sold as organic for 90 days following treatment, and breeding stock cannot receive treatment during the last third of gestation if their offspring are to be sold as organic. Only three specific parasiticides – Fenbendazole, Ivermectic and Moxidectin – can be used. You can find detailed info from the Organic Standards at in section 7 CFR 205.603.

Anne says …

Wondering if it is even possible to get a step 5 chicken at Whole Foods? I would like to find pasture raised chicken to feed my family. I am not at all interested in chicken that has only been fed soy and corn. I would be willing to special order step 5/pastured chicken on a weekly basis were it possible. Obtaining chicken through local farms has proven difficult with regard to communication and delivery-- so it would be great if WF could come up with some kind of program in which customers could pre-order pastured chickens and then pick them up at the store at their convenience.

Nancy Murray says …

I have a daughter who must be on a low-iodine diet for three weeks. Your organic meats - do they have injected broths in them? Thanks for your help!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NANCY - Since our products differ between stores, I would suggest checking with your local store to see if their meats are injected with broth.

Lundseyallsopp says …

Organic foods taste better and leave you feeling healthier and more satisfied , no over eating an overall sense of puutting good in to get good out , I also use wheat grass juice , I have chrons diseasei and other health problem and I pray for more more as well asy self to feel and also behave better and stronger and NATRAL alternatives for health

Lorraine Dameron says …

Thank you for sharing this information for all to read. Another way of saying Organic sometimes may be eating food like we had back before WWII. Lorraine Dameron

Carmen Trejo says …

do you use sodium to preserve raw meat?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@CARMEN - It will really depend on the vendor or the store in particular. Check with your local store if you are looking for a no/lower sodium option, they will be happy to help!

Naynay Johnny says …

This is great! Thank you for the information.

Shiela Jones says …

Hi i recently started eating very healthy. I have very strict eating habits and refuse to eat anything not grass fed. Just because your products are labeled grass fed, does this mean that they were not fed antibotics throughout their life?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SHIELA - We will not sell any meats in our stores that have been given antibiotics.

maria ross says …

what about how they are slaughtered? Is it done humanly? Thanks!!!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@MARIA - You can find more info about slaughtering practices at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/farm-animal-meat-quality-standards.

Hiro says …

BUT, this does not mean that all the meats sold in Whole Foods market are ALL organic. It still means that the animals could be fed with GM products such as GM corn. Is this correct?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@HIRO - Correct. If you're looking for non-GMO meat options, look for organic or Non-GMO Project verified options.

Ken Boland says …

For 53 years I would fight for a good steak. But recently I started having allergic reactions to pork and beef. I can eat venison with no problems they say it is caused from a tick bite. I don't believe that so I'll try organic and see if that works for me. If not I'll just hunt a little harder.

Lomedin says …

"Organic meat", the new trend to make "conscious" people believe they are doing some good. "Happy meat" is a charade when it comes to the well-being of non-human animals. They still get hit and kicked, plus the killing is, obviously, still there. This is for people so self-centered that they think they are doing a great favour to the animals by buying "organic meat", when they are not, simply, ignoring the desires and wishes of non-human animals completely.

Sarah says …

It might be "organic" but not humane. They all still get a knife slid their throats. They feel fear and blood in the air... Better to just leave them alone and go Vegan!

Justin Raymond says …

I want to work at Whole Food Because that's the great place to the workers.

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