Organic meat is one of those rare terms where nobody really knows what it means. Don’t believe me? What is organic meat? Ask a few people and see for yourself how widely beliefs vary. When confusion exists, the loudest voice often triumphs. In this case, the loudest voice is the meat industry. Faced with increasing consumer discontent over their practices, they have allowed consumers to be misled over the meaning of organic.
In actuality, organic meat means the animals were fed organic food. That’s it. Now compare that to public opinions. Many people have ideas that range from reality to humanely raised, pasture grazed, cage-free, humanely slaughtered, no/limited confinement, etc. Note that most of those alternate definitions are themselves without meaning. For example, animals can be raised on organic feed without leaving their cage.
I cannot count the number of people I have met that buy into the false narrative, and believed that they are ethical consumers by eating organic animals. Almost all of them were surprised to the point of disbelief about the reality of organic animal farms. This is a clear gap in the market – consumers want “ethically” produced meat, as evidenced by their preference for the untrue values of “organic meat”. Of course, whether or not animals can be raised and killed ethically is another, more substantive debate for another time.
One of the final acts of the Obama administration USDA was to clear up this confusion, and broaden the scope of the organic label to include animal welfare practices, as detailed in this article. On January 18, 2017, the USDA passed the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. Under the ruling, in order for animal parts to be labeled organic, an enhanced set of living conditions for the animals would have to be observed. These included additional indoor living space, outdoor access, improved care for sick animals, and not being as cruel. Masterfully vague in intent and purpose, that last one. With the exception of outright cruelty for cruelty’s sake, each of these requirements has the side effect of increased cost to raise animals for slaughter. Viewed through that lens, it is apparent why this rule was unpopular with producers.
I’ll give you one guess what happened to the Organic Livestock and Poultry Practices rule. It was shitcanned by the Trump administration USDA. The USDA now believes that organic certification rules cannot enforce animal welfare qualifications. Prior to rescinding the ruling, an open comment period generated 72,000 comments. Of those, 56,000 were opposed to rescinding, while only 50 supported withdrawal. This is about as clear an example of government going against the wishes of people, industry, retailers, etc. By any other name, the meat still stinks.