If there’s one thing we get really evangelical about, it’s CERTIFIED ORGANIC meat – especially when the meat comes from animals that are raised primarily on grain, like pigs and poultry. Many buyers seem to consider “natural” meats the equivalent of organic produce. We do know many producers of natural meats in Maine who do offer a product that is truly a huge improvement over industrial supermarket meat in terms of animal welfare, but all too often the biggest difference is merely a few grams of subtherapeutic antibiotics, a nice label, and a price that is somewhat higher than the supermarket’s but attractively lower than ours. So what’s so special about an organic pig?
Feed. The pigs raised
for natural pork are fed conventionally raised grain, mostly corn and
soybeans. About 80% of the corn and 90%
of the soybeans raised in the
We are not trying to imply that the chemicals involved with
conventional feed grain production make conventional or natural pork dangerous
to eat. If significant traces of these
chemicals were found anywhere in the animal, it would be in the organs and fats
rather than in the muscle meats that most people eat. However, these substances have a very real
effect on the people and environment where these crops are grown. Children of conventional farmers have higher
than usual rates of cancers.
Agricultural chemicals do not stay where they are wanted: they end up in
the water, in the soil, and in any natural areas near the farms, where they
affect wild animals and beneficial insects.
Feed grain crops take up a lot of agricultural land in
Outdoor Access. Organic hogs are required by federal law to have year-round outdoor access (they are unfortunately NOT required to be on pasture, although ours always are during the growing season - in addition to our organic certification through MOFGA we also maintain certification with Animal Welfare Approved to indicate that our hogs' living conditions exceed those mandated by the National Organic Program). Small, local producers of natural pork that actually raise everything that goes under their label often do provide good outdoor access to their animals. With that exception, though, a pig raised for “natural” pork may never have seen the light of day. Federal labelling laws do not require outdoor access for animal products labelled as “natural”. Many brands – even local brands – of natural pork buy animals from multiple farms with varying standards of care (and we have had cause to visit enough hog farms in the state to know that all too often the standard is quite low). Be aware that some of these brands are misleadingly labelled as “Such-and-Such Farm Natural Pork”, making it look like a single-source product when it is not.
When we tell you how we raise our pigs, you don’t just have to take our
word for it: the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, a
USDA-accredited organic certification agency, says we’re telling the
does Animal Welfare Approved, which has been rated as the strictest
third-party certifier of animal living conditions. We fill out an
of paperwork for them every winter, detailing every aspect of our farm
operation, and during the growing season each organization sends out a
trained inspector to
verify that our assertions are accurate and that our practices meet
organic and AWA standards. It is true that the NOP
standards are the “lowest common denominator” for organic farms, but at least
there IS a lowest common denominator that is documentable and verifiable –
which is more than can be said for the unverifiable claims of “natural” meat