Vet Column 10-19-09 |

Vet Column 10-19-09

David L. Morris, DVM, Ph.D.
Fort Collins, Colo.

Investigators from Kansas State University recently published a review article analyzing conventional beef production technologies versus nonconventional production technologies. Specifically, the authors described conventional feeding systems using pharmaceutical products not allowed in natural or organic systems for finishing cattle. As producers strive to differentiate their products in the marketplace by highlighting production practices, standardizing terms becomes important.

By virtue of the Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA), and the associated USDA National Organic Program (NOP), national organic standards have been established to certify that raw, fresh products, and processed products contain organic agricultural ingredients. Agricultural products that are sold, labeled, or represented as organic must be produced and processed in accordance with the NOP standards. Except for operations whose gross income from organic sales totals $5,000 or less, farm and processing operations that grow and process organic agricultural products must be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents.

Organic is not just organic, however. Products labeled as “100 percent organic” must contain (excluding water and salt) only organically produced ingredients and processing aids. Products labeled “organic” must consist of at least 95 percent organically produced ingredients (excluding water and salt). Any remaining product ingredients must consist of nonagricultural substances approved on the National List including specific non-organically produced agricultural products that are not commercially available in organic form. Processed products that contain at least 70 percent organic ingredients can use the phrase “made with organic ingredients” and list up to three of the organic ingredients or food groups on the principal display panel.

“Natural” definition is still in the standardization phase. USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) has published an “advance notice of proposed rulemaking” (comments due by November 13, 2009) to assist in defining “natural” for use in the labeling of meat and poultry products. Presently, FSIS labels of “natural” refer to a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed. The label must explain the use of the term natural. This is to be distinguished from the USDA’s AMS marketing claim standard of “naturally raised.”

“Naturally raised” refers to livestock used for the production of meat and meat products. All products labeled with a “naturally raised” marketing claim must incorporate information explicitly stating that animals have been raised in a manner that meets the following conditions: (1) No growth promotants were administered to the animals; (2) no antibiotics (other than ionophores used to prevent parasitism) were administered to the animal; and (3) no animal by-products were fed to the animals. Dairy and poultry are outside the scope of the AMS “naturally raised” standard. Terms such as “grass fed,” “free range,” and “sustainably harvested” are also not part of the “naturally raised” standard.

To better understand the cost of inputs versus the performance of beef feedlot cattle regarding “naturally raised” and “organic,” the recently published study focused on average daily gain, feed efficiency, and dry matter intake. Statistical methods were used to compare scientific publications describing studies involving production practices consistent with each claim versus non-treated controls. When looking at breakeven models, implanted steers had a $77 per animal lower cost of production than non-implanted steers and a $349 per animal lower cost of production than organically raised steers. These data illustrated the importance of capturing premiums when operating natural raised and organic production systems to maintain economic viability.

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