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Post by Dandelion on 21st February 2011, 2:15 pm

OK, here's a meat question.
If I pick up a pack of beef mince from the supermarket which has 'organic' on the label, does this imply that the beef was reared humanely as well as organically? I'm assuming that the criteria which would allow the producer to use the organic label would insist on high standards of animal husbandry. Am I assuming too much?

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Post by mr_sfstk8d on 21st February 2011, 2:32 pm

Good question. I'd look into who the governing body of this "organic" qualification label is, then read up to what thier standards are.
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Post by Compostwoman on 21st February 2011, 2:40 pm

If it is Soil Association the standards are really very high. Other "organic", a bit less so IMO but still far far better than " conventionally farmed"

RSPCA freedom Food needs care as some has NO outdoor element at all....so you need to look for the extra words " outdoor reared " as well as Freedom Food. The freedom bit is freedom from the 5 fears.

Little Red Tractor means naff all IMO as it is simply the standards demanded by the law, anyway..... Rolling Eyes Evil or Very Mad

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 21st February 2011, 4:28 pm

In a word, no. Organic does not necessarily even mean free-range.
Whilst a lot of Organic producer have very high ethical standards and are Organic from holding high principles, there is nothing to stop anyone jumping through the hoops and ticking the SA boxes, just to slap the Organic label and corresponding price tag on their produce regardless of whether they could give two hoots about animal welfare. The y will jump through the SA's hops but absolutely nothing further.

Likewise there is a lot of meat that is not labelled "Organic" that has been reared organically and with the highest ethical standards but just doesn't have SA endorsement.

Our pigs live on land which has not been treated with chemicals for over twenty years. They eat organic feed, they do not get anti-biotic jabs (mainly because they don't need them, because they are free-ranging on good land ibid), but there is no way on Earth I am ever going to apply for SA certification.

You can download the SA regulations here:

http://www.soilassociation.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=jUHCcmRKlYM%3d&tabid=246

but essentially what they have to say about animal rearing is this:

Organic stock farming should respect high animal welfare
standards and meet animals' species-specific behavioural
needs while animal-health management should be based on
disease prevention. In this respect, particular attention
should be paid to housing conditions, husbandry practices
and stocking densities.

Very noble, but very vague. Animals should have 'access to open air areas' - I know of a pig producer who gets round this by driving the pigs out from their indoor pen, where they are kept thirty at a time in a tenth of the space I keep six, into an unroofed section once a day while the farmer scrapes the ordure out of the pen, then straight back in again. And that is certified Organic. To be fair it is not a terribly inhumane pig unit and the animals are treated far better than most but it is still a hell of a long way from what most people imgaine when they see the label Organic, usually accompanied by a jolly picture of a beaming porker in a huge grassy field.

the problem is, to produce meat really properly, humanely, with low stocking densities, free-ranging in the truest sense - ie being able to forage for food, and slow-grown etc, is very expensive, and the consumer simply is not prepared to pay that much, having got used to artificially low prices for food.

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Post by Compostwoman on 21st February 2011, 4:43 pm

An organic certification involves a LOT more than just " ticking boxes", Billy, as well you know...there are frequent inspections.

And I think mixing up "certified organic" with "non certified but really really good" is slightly muddying the water as the question was about buying meat from a Supermarlet.

Obviously the real answer is - don't buy from a supermarket at all, even if it says it is organic meat. Go and source your meat by visiting where it comes from etc etc . But very few people can do that, so they need to know what they can rely on IF they buy from a supermarket or butchers.

I buy meat from organic/ small farm suppliers I know OR from our local butcher in town because I know where his meat comes from and have seen how it is reared, so I am happy even though it is NOT certified organic. That means the feed issue is one I am a bit unhappy about BUT it is ethically reared.

IF I were going to buy from a super I would only buy SA certified meat. AS it is the most stringent standard. The feed is organic, the animals have to be born organic, and have lower stocking densities and more room than any other standard applied.

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Post by Wilhelm Von Rhomboid on 21st February 2011, 5:16 pm

Compostwoman wrote:An organic certification involves a LOT more than just " ticking boxes", Billy, as well you know...there are frequent inspections.

And I think mixing up "certified organic" with "non certified but really really good" is slightly muddying the water as the question was about buying meat from a Supermarlet.

I am not going to get into an argument with you over semantics CW. I was just answering the question of the OP. Whilst SA certification involves more than ticking boxes - as I made clear by 'jumping through hoops', those hoops do not necessarily guarantee high ethical animal husbandry standards. Many large food supply companies get Organic certification by complying with the absolute letter of the law for teh SA, but nothing more and are not remotely concerned with the spirit of it, simply with the bottom line, which is maximising profit. If profit can be increased by adhering to Organic regulations then they will. It does not mean they could care less about bthe welfare of the animals beyond what is required, and that is not really very much, at least in terms of what Joe Public envisages Organically reared animals to be.

I don't think Supermarket or Farmer's market has that much to do with it. There are dozens of incidents of stalls on Farmer's Markets being found to be passing off non-organic as Organic, and I daresay most of the supermarkets are very careful these days to avoid any such whiff of scandal.

I am not criticising Organic meat, and I agree that meat labelled as Organic is much more likely to have been reared in an appropriate manner, but the point is, it is not a guarantee of that. Nor is it a guarantee that it is free-range.
By the same token, just because animals have been reared extensively, are rare-breed, free-range and all of that, there is no guarantee that they have not had miserable lives either. Ultimately, unless you buy eclsuively from farm shops where you can see the treatement of teh animals first hand, you can never be sure that what is going on your plate has been reared in a way you would approve of. The best you can hope for is reducing the odds.

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Post by Compostwoman on 21st February 2011, 6:12 pm

Not arguing over semantics either Billy but you using the words " box ticking" certainly implies a poor attitude to the subject in question ( organic food production) in most people's books...

But as I said, Dandelion (the OP) asked about Supermarket meat; so in answer to her question, IF you shop in a supermarket the only way you can be sure of a higher standard of welfare and feeding is to buy Organic certified, preferably Soil Association (look for UK5, if there is no symbol)

IF you can, as Billy said, go and look at the meat you want to eat being reared and ask lots of questions of the producer. But most people simply cannot do that and therefore they shop in Supermarkets, hence my point about Organic certification being the only way to know what you are getting ...

and yes I know about dodgy organic stuff etc Rolling Eyes ... but why damn the whole organic certification system and supply chain because of a few rotten apples? Nearly all organic stuff IS what it claims to be, a small percentage isn't. So if you shop in a supermarket, you either buy stuff you know probably isn't ethically ok..or you buy certified organic stuff which is meant to be more ethical , and within that organic stuff might be a vanishingly small percentage which might not be all it claims....

Strikes me the percentages are pretty clear on that! organic certified is almost certainly ethically ok, at least; non organic is almost certainly ( from a supermarket) not.

Oh and yes, I AM a Soil Association member Smile , and 11 years ago came very close to becoming one of a local organic certified, mixed producer group starting up locally....which contained producers of pigs, apples, salads, veg, soft fruit, chickens and eggs. Ill health forced me to withdraw from it but I have had some experience of the SA standards involved.

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Post by mr_sfstk8d on 21st February 2011, 7:10 pm

I think the overriding notion, on both sides of the opinion here, is that constant vigilance is at the heart of the matter. It's true that it is possible to make a product adhere to the letter of the law. I can make a company that produces concrete life preserver vests. As long as I make them the same way every time, with fewer than 1 - 1000 defects, I can be ISO9000 accredited. Doesn't make it work though. However, I can't make a REPUTATION that way. In my opinion, accredation is a way to get your foot in the door. That done, when the market (consumers in the light of supermarket foods) get to know my company, then they get to know my product and the culture it's produced in. Getting to know your local farmers may not be an option for all. But are there some resources you can look up the companies with SA listing? Then read other consumer's reports? Oversight body reviews? News bits on them? Maybe these are some other ways of getting to know the supplier. In the end, it's still about getting the consumer to look just a bit beyond the label.

I don't really know if this is helpful re: the OP, or just firewood, but that's my 2p worth.
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Post by Compostwoman on 21st February 2011, 7:16 pm

No firewood involved as there are no flames to feed... Very Happy

Personally I would always go for a smaller certified organic producer rather than a huge mega farm, for precisely the reasons Billy said, above.

Also a smaller producer probably got into organic certification out of a passionate belief in Organic food (where I come from on this...) rather than a desire to " cash in" on a percieved market for Organic foodstuffs.....

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Post by GB on 23rd February 2011, 1:40 pm

mr_sfstk8d wrote:I think the overriding notion, on both sides of the opinion here, is that constant vigilance is at the heart of the matter. It's true that it is possible to make a product adhere to the letter of the law. I can make a company that produces concrete life preserver vests. As long as I make them the same way every time, with fewer than 1 - 1000 defects, I can be ISO9000 accredited. Doesn't make it work though. However, I can't make a REPUTATION that way. In my opinion, accredation is a way to get your foot in the door. That done, when the market (consumers in the light of supermarket foods) get to know my company, then they get to know my product and the culture it's produced in. Getting to know your local farmers may not be an option for all. But are there some resources you can look up the companies with SA listing? Then read other consumer's reports? Oversight body reviews? News bits on them? Maybe these are some other ways of getting to know the supplier. In the end, it's still about getting the consumer to look just a bit beyond the label.

I don't really know if this is helpful re: the OP, or just firewood, but that's my 2p worth.

Well, actually, you could indeed make a VERY INTRESTING reputation making concrete life preservers

Given the choice (and the money ) I would always go with organic meat in the supermarket. The odds are in your - and the animals - favor that the meat at least hasnt suffered its entire life.

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Post by Dandelion on 23rd February 2011, 3:52 pm

Thanks - I've found this all really helpful, and spent a bit of time this week going to the various butchers in town and talking to them.

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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Post by Compostwoman on 23rd February 2011, 4:26 pm

Dandelion wrote:Thanks - I've found this all really helpful, and spent a bit of time this week going to the various butchers in town and talking to them.

Dave in the Homend is the best of them, IMO. Also you can order meat and it is delivered every two weeks from Model Farm. We use them and their stuff is very good.

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Post by Dandelion on 23rd February 2011, 10:10 pm

We buy sausages from Dave when we're feeling rich! I think we made our mark with him when he was doing the catering at a BBQ my parents were invited to a good few years ago - my father collapsed and the paramedics had to be called (nothing to do with the meat) and took him to hospital. Dave knows who we are!!!

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The richer we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and spiritually. We have learned to fly in the air like birds and swim in the sea like fish, but we have not learned the simple art of living together as brothers and sisters.

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