Friday, December 23, 2011

Terminology:  "Organic"

This is an update of a blog first posted on January 18, 2011,
which is online at


In summary, an "organic" steak means a steak from cattle that has been certified, by an independent agency, as meeting three requirements:
  • The cattle were fed only 100% organic feed;
  • The cattle were not treated with any routine antibiotics; and
  • The cattle were not treated with any hormones.


In order for a steak to be labelled "organic", the steak must comply with a long list of specific requirements.

With regard to the diet of the cattle from which the steak is produced, none of the grasses or grains may be treated with any non-organic pesticide, any non-organic insecticide, any non-organic herbicide, and most non-organic fertilizers.

In addition, none of the cattle's diet may have been subject to chemical ripening, irradiation, genetically modified ingredients or processes, artificial sweeteners, artificial food colors and artificial flavoring.

With regard to the cattle themselves, they may not be treated with routine antibiotics. However, antibiotics may be used in order to treat a specific medical condition.

The cattle may not be given any artificial growth hormones.  However, cattle may be given artificial growth enhancements that are not hormones.

Because of the strict requirements, less than 1% of the steaks sold domestically qualify for the organic label.  Because the supply is so limited, and because there is considerable demand for organic steak, the price of an organic steak is much higher than the price of a comparable conventional steak.


The common term used for non-organic cattle or steak is "conventional" cattle or steak.  In this sense, conventional refers to the method by which the great majority of domestic beef cattle are raised, from which the vast majority of steak is produced.

A more precise term for non-organic cattle or steak is "non-organic cattle or steak".


The word "organic" is defined by federal law.  The word is codified in the "Organic Food Production Act of 1990, 7 USC § 6501-22".  The Regulations are set forth in "7 CFR Part 205".  The program is regulated by the USDA's "National Organic Program".

There are approximately "90 certification agencies" which have been accredited (approved) by the USDA.


There is no difference in the palatability (i.e. the taste, texture or juiciness) between organic and non-organic steak.

Some claim that there are health and environmental benefits of organic steak compared with non-organic steak.  Some claim that there are no measurable differences, and some claim that there are health and environmental risks associated with organic steak.

As noted above, the price of a organic steak is higher than a comparable non-organic steak.

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