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Published on October 21st, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans


Safe, Certified, Organic Meats

Are you in need of a healthy alternative to factory-farmed meats?  A growing array of certified organic and sustainably raised choices is available for your choosing. 

By supporting green, sustainable meat producers, you help to alter the destructive cycle of conventional agricultural practices and simultaneously ensure that you are consuming a superior product.  Going a step further and decreasing your meat consumption effectively reduces your impact on the planet and helps to maintain your overall health.

Over the last several decades commercial livestock agriculture has created more environmental havoc than any otherUSDA Organic Seal industry.  As the staggering eco-impact of the meat industry is more widely publicized, consumer demand for meat from humanely and sustainably raised sources is making an impact on the industry.  A growing number of small-scale livestock farmers are establishing businesses geared not toward volume, but toward producing a premium and sustainable product.  When you purchase organic beef and other varieties of sustainable meat, you can rest assured that these are free from antibiotics or synthetic hormones, and that the animal grown to produce the meat was not fed genetically modified feed.

A USDA 100% organic label insures that the cow was only fed 100% organic feed, and guarantees the traceability of that animal from birth to slaughter.  While an organic label doesn’t guarantee that the animal was raised humanely, no system of farming beats organic in the department of observing high standards for the humane treatment of animals.  The movement of organic agriculture works toward maintaining a healthy balance of the soil and safeguarding ground water, topsoil, and the health and biodiversity of surrounding habitats and ecosystems.  These practices also work to counteract the destructive methods employed by animal agribusiness, which account for a large amount of the world’s environmental pollution.

The over-consumption of red meat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, and osteoporosis in humans.  Eating less meat can save money on grocery bills and on doctor bills in the future, and allows you to splurge on very high quality, organic meats when you do make the choice to consume them.

The High Cost of Raising Food for Our Food

Grazing CowsRaising animals for food requires a tremendous amount of space and natural resources.  Vocal opponents of this practice maintain that livestock farming is a highly inefficient and dirty way to produce food, and much evidence exists to support this claim.  Animals raised for food in the U.S. produce 130 times more excrement than the U.S. human population.  Bovine flatulence and manure emit more than 1/3 of all methane, a greenhouse gas that warms the planet 20 times faster than carbon dioxide.  Pollution from cattle ranching also washes down to the sea–decimating aquatic life–and poisons surrounding water sources.  Evidence suggests that the meat industry is responsible for more water pollution than all other industries combined.

Cattle, in particular, also consume a great deal of water, requiring 190 gallons of water per animal per day.  Worldwide, livestock also consumes half of the world’s total grain harvest–this wastefulness is magnified when added to the amount of water required to grow food for our livestock.  One-half of the water consumed in the U.S. is used merely to grow grain for cattle feed.

The Drawbacks of Grass-Fed and Free-Range Meats

24% of the planet’s available land is occupied by the world’s cattle population.  Millions of acres of tropical forests in Brazil, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Honduras are decimated due to raising cattle.  Intensive grazing methods significantly damage the world’s pastures and ranges, causing them to resemble deserts more than fertile grazing grounds.

Inhumane treatment of livestock raised in feedlots has drawn consumer attention, prompting many non-organic producers to advertise their products as grass-fed or free-range, though these terms do not guarantee that they were produced in a sustainable, free-range setting.

The much touted health benefits of grass-fed beef have contributed to its recent popularity–grass-fed beef is up to 1/3 lower in fat than grain-fed beef, and contains more omega-3 fatty acids.  The appeal of grass-fed and free-range beef to consumers is also growing, as free-range practices are undoubtedly better for the welfare of livestock animals that are otherwise confined to overcrowded feedlots.  But critics maintain that grazing systems are more destructive to the environment than factory farms by citing the following consequences:

  • The land required to feed each animal leads to soil degradation, destroys habitats, and contaminates water sources.
  • Water is often diverted from nearby streams to irrigate the animal’s pasture, doing irreparable damage to the aquatic environment.
  • Native vegetation is frequently plowed and replaced with exotic grasses, which result in the displacement or eradication of native wildlife.
  • Wildlife populations that pose a threat to ranching, such as grizzly bears, wolves, and prairie dogs are trapped or shot by the thousands.

Unless substantial changes are made in industry practices, which up until now have been focused on ensuring low product costs and high profits, the survival of many more plant and wildlife species will be threatened.

What You Can Do

Though the meat industry is still dominated by a handful of giant corporations, sustainable beef, sheep, and hog operations continue to crop up all over the nation.  In a sustainable meat production process, manure is used to naturally fertilize the soil and animals are raised in an ethical manner.  But as conscious consumer, we must take the extra step to familiarize ourselves with the conditions under which our meat has been produced.  Here are some tips to get you started:

  • Thoroughly research your organic or grass-fed meat producers.
  • Whenever possible, buy from local producers whose operations you can see for yourself.
  • Check the online farmer database Food Alliance to find a sustainable organization near you.
  • In addition, reducing your meat consumption plays an important role, not only in maintaining your health, but also in diminishing your consumption of the planet’s limited resources.

The over-consumption of red meat has been linked to cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, breast cancer, and osteoporosis in humans.  Eating less meat can save money on grocery bills and on doctor bills in the future, and allows you to splurge on very high quality, organic meats when you do make the choice to consume them.

Article Contributors: Julie Reid

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