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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

Francine says …

Thank you for this. I just started researching organic food yesterday, and this was a simple explanation.

Linda Verkamp says …

Does it truly mean that the animals and chickens/turkeys actually amble about outside in pasture and open ground whenever they so choose(excluding maybe nighttime, milking times, shearing)? And do pasture eating animals get most of their food from grasses? Are pigs fed like healthy traditional pigs were fed back before this current massive farm culture evolved into being? I, myself, would rather cut back on some animal consumption and/or pay something more (not outrageous, of course) because I don't believe we have to go there if we just educate more as to why moderation in consumption is the best avenue, health being just one of the reasons.

James Cooper says …

But how do we know it is actually better? What scientific studies show that chemical fertilizers,for example, are better or worse than any other kind?

Holly Hennessy says …

Are the animals treated humanely even when being put down? I have recently seen some videos about how poorly cattle are treated when sent to slaughter houses, so I hope organic also means humane?

St. McDuck says …

I just picked up some Mary's Organic Chicken Breast from Whole Foods last weekend for use in a garlic pasta recipe. It was fantastic. Cooked up just right. I buy organic because I don't want to have to worry about what might be lurking in my food (and what that would then do to my body).

arlene says …

Please give a detail explanation of what it means when the meat at wholefoods, is not organic. I just watched a documentary on GMO foods and livestock eating GMO corn and silage. Very scary. So I am not clear what non organic means when it comes to meat. And I am very concerned, because I do not want to eat any meat that is not organic, and I find myself slipping up when I buy your packaged cold cuts. Thank you.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ARLENE- The best way to avoid GMO foods is to stick to anything certified organic or items labeled with a verification by the Non-GMO Project. You can find more information about this project on our site at http://wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/environmental-stewardship/genetically-engineered-foods or directly to the projects site at http://www.nongmoproject.org/. I hope this helps!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LINDA - You can find additional information regarding living conditions for various animals on the Global Animal Partnerships' 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating site at http://www.globalanimalpartnership.org/for-consumers/. Items in our stores will be labeled with a specific step 1-5. In regards to pasture roaming animals, unless it is specifically labeled as “grass fed,” the beef sold at Whole Foods Market is from cattle that are grass fed for 2/3 of their lives and then finished on a ration of part grain and part alfalfa. We follow the USDA guidelines for anything labeled "grass-fed" in that grass must be the only foliage for the lifetime of the animal. I hope this helps!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JAMES - Thanks for your question. A great resource for more information is online at www.organic-center.org, which includes 19 science reports that cover a wide range of subject matter related to organic agriculture and production–from pesticides, food safety, antioxidants, nutritional quality, and children’s health. Organized into “State of Science Reviews”, “Critical Issue Reports”, and The Organic Center-generated “TOC Analytical Tools and Systems”, the reports include executive summaries to get the top points quickly, along with the full, in-depth reports.

Julia Pierce says …

I've read all of your literature and the sites linked to in previous comments,. My question is if the meat isn't labeled 'organic' or 'grass-fed' then were the animals fed feed corn, soy and or alfalfa that are GMO's or GE's? I've been to the nogmoproject.org site and the only certified GMO-free meat producer is one in Northern California. Since all of your 365 products have been verified, I have to assume that your non-organic, non-grass fed meat do contain GMO's. Is that correct?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@HOLLY - Yes, we want to make sure that all animals are humanely treated through their entire life. We closely monitor each producer’s standard operating procedures at the ranch and at the slaughter facility, including humane animal handling and adherence to strict food safety protocols. Since 2011, we have required all our beef, chicken and pork suppliers to be certified to the Global Animal Partnership’s 5-Step Animal Welfare Rating Program. This innovative program makes it easier for customers concerned with the treatment of farm animals to know how animals were raised. There are at least 100 standards to be met and each farm/ranch must pass an on-site audit every 15 months to verify they meet the standards. Whole Foods Market also visits farms and ranches regularly and requires all our vendors to complete affidavits each year.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JULIA - Thanks for your question. Due to the prevalence of the GMOs in the commodity grain market, and the limited availability of verified non-GMO feed, we cannot require the use of only non- GMO feed for animal products (including meat, dairy and farmed fish) sold in our stores. We encourage shoppers who are looking to avoid products from animals fed GMOs to choose organic meat and dairy products (since organic standards prohibit the intentional use of GMOs), farmed molluscs such as clams, oysters, and mussels (since no added feed is used when farming these species), or wild-caught seafood.

Natural Organic Foods says …

I would agree with your opening statement but I don't agree with everything. We are all different and have various views on the matter and I guess that everyone has a right to express his or her opinions.

Gillian says …

!! Remember, though, that no drugs also means no pain medications to an animal in pain- also no antibiotics for an obvious infection... think about it. Difficult calving for a cow: no epidural. If there's a vaginal tear, too bad. Laceration somewhere, stitches without pain medications and hope the immune system takes care of the bacteria! A cow or pig may get a hoof infection, they get left to see if they'll heal and when they don't they go to slaughter in pain or unable to even walk. Organic is not always the best, these animals may be left to suffer unnecessarily.

Julia Rusu says …

I celebrate and salute your company for your concerns about animal welfare!! I have always leaned in the direction of being more of a vegetarian, mostly because of the concerns about how we treat our farm animals. I was attracted to the idea of organic but this was the only way to feel that the animal was more ethically treated. Of course, I do not want to consume antibiotics and eat growth hormones but the most imporant factor was the humane treatment of farm animals during their life and during the end of their life. I am so thrilled that your company is committed to their treatment as well as a healthy product, so thankyou so much, Julia Rusu

buddy sampson says …

looking for organic meat, beef, chicken. vegetable. please add me to your weekly or monthly advertising program

Becka says …

Trying to find out if your chickens or beef are fed soy grain? Thank you

Megan says …

@BECKA Yes, soy may be included in some diets for the chicken and beef we source.

Vivian says …

I have read the article and comments and was satisfied my concerns were adressed until the last comment. If the "Organic", grass-fed, meat I am buying does not contain hormones and antibiotics, and is 100% grass fed.... it DOES NOT contain any soy feed, correct? You say SOME meat and chicken sold in the store are fed soy (90% of soy is now GMO) so I am trying to avoid that. I also have thyroid problems (soy is a no-no as it competes for what little thyroid hormone I have)! I want a meat that is 100% grass fed (NO grains), organic, with no soy, corn, alfalfa, antibiotics, hormones.... Will your "Organic" meet these requirement? Also, do you sell an egg that is from chickens that actually forage for bugs, etc.? I don't just want "local" or "grain-fed" (chickens are NOT naturally vegetarian)! I love Whole Foods and I shop there regularly but I wish things were labeled more clearly or there was a central place to go for information! Thanks!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@VIVIAN - Thanks for your question. Not that I want to confuse you even more, but our products vary between store locations and regions so I am unable to recommend a specific product at your local store. When it comes to any questions you may have for a particular vendor, I would suggest asking your Meat department at your local store and they should know the answer, or be able to look in to it for you. Keep in mind that "organic" meat is not the same as "grass-fed" meat. Your Meat department will be able to explain this further for you but I want to make sure you are aware that the titles are not interchangeable.

Bobbyd says …

Just wondering if whole foods gets their meat/poultry and produce from locally grown farms in CT? Or from an outside state? Trying to figure out how far the "organic" food travels before hitting the store?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@BOBBYD - Since our vendors will vary between regions and store locations, I would suggest reaching out to your local store to see where they source their meat/poultry from. The butcher can let you know where the items are from and let you know which vendor is the closest. You can find their contact info at http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/stores/list.

kimberly cole says …

i am disheartened to learn that all of the meat at whole foods is not organic. of all of the markets i would expect that this one would know how harmful GMO's are. even in the feed used to nourish the animals we eat. when will whole foods discontinue carrying non organic products? and why do you carry them now? we need a safe place to shop. i need a market that i can trust. please dont carry poisonous food in your stores anymore.

Mike says …

What truly does natural mean? http://mikecole858.blogspot.com/2013/02/what-does-natural-mean-exactly.html

Karen says …

Slaughtered??? How are they slaughtered?? No one talks about that and to me that is the whole issue! Please give more information on slaughtering. Is there a rating system for slaughterhouses?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@KAREN - We do not currently have a rating system for slaughterhouses, however, we require all slaughter facilities to successfully pass annual third party audits of their animal welfare and food safety practices.

Logan says …

Is humane slaughter included in the production of organic meat?

Liz says …

Your comment above stating "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", leads me to believe you also sell meat at the butcher area that is not organic. If this is so, and Whole Foods is aware of the breeding, raising and slaughtering conditions of non-organic 'businesses', why would you sell them in your store? Doesn't it seem to defeat the purpose of what you stand for? Regards, Liz

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LOGAN - Yes, we require all slaughter facilities to successfully pass annual third party audits of their animal welfare and food safety practices.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@LIZ - Not all of the meat we sell in our stores is organic but all meat we sell must meet our strict animal welfare standards. We definitely take in to account the slaughtering practices of any meat vendor that is not organic. You can find more info about the animal welfare standards at http://wholefoods.com/about-our-products/quality-standards/animal-welfare-standards which then you can also visit the Global Animal Partnership page for even more info.

Svetlana says …

I've seen several references made by the moderator that all meat sold in WFM should meet their 5-step Animal Welfare Standard - which is validated only every 15 months . So, the farm can do all the shoddy things they want for 14 months, and clean up to showcase and clear the audit on the 15th month? The Welfare standard just rates from 1 thru 5+. I do not see a rating for rejection. All the animals qualify!! In my local store, there is NO option for a 5+ chicken, just 1 option for a 3 chicken. Rest of them are 1s and 2s. Where is my safe meat???

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SVETLANA - Sorry for the confusion but I have not mentioned that all meat has to meat our 5-Step rating. The 5-Step Animal Welfare rating system currently applies to our beef, pork, chicken or turkey. We are diligent to make sure the farms and ranches meet our quality standards that provide meat not mentioned above. Our products are bought at the regional/store level, have you been able to ask your store if a Step 5 chicken vendor is available in their area?

Nadia Field says …

Even if the animal is not fed GMO feed, are the animals themselves not genetically engineered, that is bred to be larger, stronger, more disease resistant? I understand that pork is a Franken beast, having undergone such breeding practices that it is essentially unrecognizable genetically from its ancestors who rooted and lived outside much of the year.

Henrietta says …

which is better for you to eat grass fed or organic ?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@HENRIETTA - I would suggest reaching out to your health care professional for their best advice before adding anything to your diet. There are customers that believe there is a taste difference between the two options but definitely talk to your doctor about which one to add to your diet.

Sharon says …

Hi, I was diagnosed with Cervical Cancer and was told by my nutritionist that organic foods are better for me. I live in Michigan and the closest store to me is in a not so great part of town. Does Whole Foods maintain the same standards at every store? Such as organic or grass fed beef?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@SHARON - We are not a franchise and own all of our store locations. We make sure that each of our stores live up to our strict quality standards. Keep in mind that not all of the products in our stores are organic, but we should have tons of great organic options for you though!

Sharon says …

Thank you very much for responding. I appreciate it.

MAGDALENA HERRERA says …

Its very important all the indications you teach in order to begin the organic poultry feed

Denise Drake says …

I can not believe that I have to search out Organic meats as though it was an odd thing to not have god knows what science experiment in your food....Just say no to anything fed GMO...JUST SAY NO. I would think that whole foods and Harrys would not even consider putting anything GMO in there store...Really...

Sam says …

Interesting stuff. Could use this as a reference for my food chemistry assignment

alexandra says …

Could you please tell me if there is an allowable amount of extraneous non meat product in your organic/free farm ground beef?

nessa says …

If some of you have an issue w/ the way the animal is slaughtered maybe you should go vegetarian. I have been fir almost two years. I am in no way affiliated with whole food markets but reading some if the comments I couldn't resist posting. Yes I eat organic, but seriously stop bashing this co. when you yourself eat meat!

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@ALEXANDRA - All of the ground meat sold in our meat department will be fresh ground in house. It will never contain any byproducts.

John Williams says …

What is actually contained in the Feed that you give, particularly, to the cattle (and other animals)?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@JOHN - This will differ between ranchers. You can check with your local store to find out what the vendors in their area feed their animals. They will be happy to look in to this for you.

Dianna says …

Are all your meats organic, step 1 through step 5?

nelli says …

Does the organic grass fed beef sold at WF still contain the red food dye? It looks like it does. Is there any getting away from the red food dye in red meat?

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@DIANNA - Our Animal Welfare Standards are specifically about animal welfare. An organic standard is based on completely different criteria. However, some of our Step-rated meats are also certified organic.

Nikki - Community Moderator says …

@NELLI - We do not allow any artificial dye in any of our products. If the grass-fed meat appears more red, it's possible because grass-fed meat tends to be more lean, which will have less marbling.

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