My family loves eating meat and like with everything we consume I try to buy the best quality available. Buying meat from a local butcher who sources grass-fed and pastured meat from local farmers is always the best option, but should the meat be organic?
Regulations on what constitutes organic meat vary depending on the region. In 1989 the European Union outlawed the use of hormones in farm animals and banned all imports from countries where hormones are used for growth purposes, which includes all imports from the USA.
The EU Scientific Committee investigated the potential risks of the use of growth hormones and hormones that prolong the milking period. The committee concluded that the risks include DNA damage, tumours, cancer, immunological effects and other serious health risks. So whether you are buying organic or non-organic meat in the EU you can rest assured that it doesn’t contain any of these hormones.
What about drugs and antibiotics, I hear you think. The European Union banned the use of antibiotics on livestock for growth purposes and they can’t be used for the prevention of ailments. However, some antibiotics may still be used to treat livestock after an illness has been diagnosed. These regulations apply to all livestock, both organic and non-organic. This means that organic livestock can be treated with antibiotics when diagnosed with an ailment, though to be classified as organic only 3 treatments in a period of 12 months are allowed. If more than 3 treatments have been administered the meat cannot be sold as organic, though it is possible to sell it as organic again after a waiting period has been observed to let the effects of the drugs wear off. So buying organic meat does not guarantee the avoidance of antibiotics.
With regards to food, I always thought that organic livestock is fed organic feed. Alas, this is not the case. Legislation encourages organic feed to organic herbivorous livestock but does not require it, so it is safe to assume that not all feed to organic herbivorous livestock is organic. For non-herbivorous livestock the allowance of non-organic food has been phased out.
For me, all this makes the distinction between organic and non-organic meat very small, especially in meat from herbivorous animals. However, I feel it is important to source meat as local as possible, ensure it is grass fed, pastured and that the animal had a happy life.