Organic Definitions

I used the plural in the title on purpose. For the word “organic” there is more than one definition and keeping that in mind is important when you read the headlines. In the news this week we hear that “both organic milk and meat contain around 50% more beneficial omega-3 fatty acids than conventionally produced product.” This quote is from an article found at, “New study finds clear differences between organic and non-organic milk and meat” where they write up a study performed at Newcastle University.

Newcastle University is located in England. This study analyzed previous studies that compared the composition of organic milk and meat to conventionally raised milk and meat and the observed effect on health. The studies they analyzed were conducted around the world, 196 papers on milk, 67 papers on meat.

The problem with the news is that organic is an English word, and it means something legally different in different countries. Organic products in the US must satisfy the FDA and USDA definitions of organic (which are not the same) and in England they must satisfy the requirements of British law. Each country may or may not have a legal standard for organic. To tell you that organic milk or meat here would be as beneficial as the same product in England would just not be true.

My guess is that in England organic means pasture raised. Conventionally raised in England must mean fed grain meal in confinement like we do over here. Let me go check…

Organic in England means no herbicides or fertilizers on cattle feed. That would mean that feeding corn and soy meal like they do in confinement operations here would be out of the question. They also must only give animals medicines by prescription of the veterinarian.

Here is the USDA definition of organic “After a drawn-out debate, the U.S. Agriculture Department has significantly narrowed the definition of organic livestock to animals that spend a third of the year grazing on pasture. The new rules also say that “organic” milk and meat must come from livestock grazing on pasture for at least four months of the year, and that 30 percent of their feed must come from grazing.”

The difference is vast between the two. In England organic means fed natural grasses, in the US it means fed in a pasture for one third of the year. That might mean fed in the barn in the winter, or it might not. It means what it means to the farm, and my guess is that the effects found in the Newcastle studies would not always apply in the US. The benefits of grass feeding animals that naturally eat grass are probably far more numerous than just the omega 3 essential fatty acids that are in the grass fed meats and dairy. Those benefits are from the grass not from the organic label.

About dcarmack

I am an instrument technician at the electric utility servicing the Kansas City Missouri metropolitan area. I am in the IBEW, Local 412. I was trained to be a nuclear power plant operator in the USN and served on submarines. I am a Democrat, even more so than those serving in Congress or the White House.
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