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Beef: Organic vs. Natural

Looking for the best beef for your jerky? You may have seen both ‘natural’ and ‘organic’ beef at the supermarket. And you might be inclined to think that the labels are the same – interchangeable in fact . . . but they are not.

‘Organic’ beef is definitely not the same as ‘natural’ beef in either production or processing. So which should you buy? The following should give you an idea of the differences, allowing you to make a decision about which one you want to feed your family.

Natural Beef

As defined by the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA), the term ‘natural’ is beef that has been raised for human consumption without any additives – and minimally processed. It should be noted that beef from factory feed lots can also be labeled ‘natural’ without verification from any third-party.

To qualify as ‘natural’, beef can be described as:

  • Having no artificial hormones
  • Having no artificial flavoring
  • Having no artificial coloring
  • Having no antibiotics
  • Processed beef contains no artificial ingredients of any kind
  • Minimal processing

Minimally processed ground beef also can qualify as ‘natural’.  However, to qualify as ‘natural’,  it cannot contain any MSG (mono-sodium glutamate) or salt.

Organic Beef

On the other hand, ‘organic’ refers to beef that has been produced following very strict guidelines and rules.

These rules were passed by the USDA in October, 2002 setting the standards for what the public purchases. One of the main differences is that both production and handling operations undergo on-site inspections with an operating plan in place – unlike natural beef that requires no ‘third party verification’.

To qualify as ‘organic’ beef, livestock production must have the following:

  • A fully verifiable production system collecting history of every animal in the program. [ This includes breed history, veterinary care and feed. ]
  • Born and raised on certified 100% organic pasture [ The mother must have been fed organic feed for at least the last third of gestation. ]
  • Have never received any antibiotics
  • Have never received any growth hormones
  • Have only been fed 100% certified organic grasses and grains
  • Have unrestricted outdoor access [ This includes fresh air, water, sunshine, grass, and pasture. Any shelter must provide comfort with no restrictions. ]

There are also some definite no-no’s when raising ‘organic’ livestock including:

  • No feeding of animal parts
  • No feeding of plastic pellets for roughage
  • No feeding of urea or manure

The processing of  the beef products also has ‘rules’.  If the processor handles both ‘organic’ and ‘natural’ beef at the facility, they must separate the handling of the two. This separation even goes so far as to specify allowed and prohibited cleaning agents that may be used.

The strict requirements placed on the raising of ‘organic’ livestock, as well as the need for accurate record keeping, means the ‘organic’ animal can be traced all the way from birth to market. This offers the consumer a guarantee of  ‘tracebility’  ensuring they are purchasing the finest 100% organic product available.


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