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Defining organic meat with your local butcher

You are in an ethical quandary about where your meat comes from and going vego is not your cup of tea. How do you know whether the animal was treated well? And where do you find sustainable meat? Deborah Andrich looks for answers.

The meat market Drier's Butcher. (Flikr: Jacob Vanderheyden)is full to the brim with products claiming to be free range, organic or biodynamic; it is often difficult to know what it means for the animal. The best strategy is to ask. When it comes to discovering the answer, the best person is an expert, in this case that likely includes your local butcher.

More often than not, your local butcher, and not the supermarket guy, will know which farm his meat came from, has probably met the farmer and has created the best sausages, salami or marinade in-house and knows exactly what ingredients went into it.

If the welfare of the animals and the environment is high on your priority list, start looking for organic meats.

So what is organic meat?

To produce organic meat is to ensure that animals are free ranging (can mooch about in a paddock) and grass fed.  There is no use of synthetic growth hormones, limited use of vaccines, no routine use of antibiotics, breeding is achieved naturally, weaning is stress free, and the animals are able to behave naturally.

At the abattoir, to maintain the organic status, the animals are kept in their social groups, have access to organic feed for overnight staysand are placed in comfortable holding pens with access to bedding and water. Killing is not done in the line of sight of other animals and they are rendered unconscious prior to slaughter. To keep the supply chain organic, any ingredients used by the processor must also be certified organic and permissible under the organic standards. Farms, abattoirs and butchers are audited every year to make sure that these standards are upheld.

“You don’t have to stop eating meat to avoid poor animal treatment,” according to Australian Organic standards convenor Owen Gwilliam. “When buying certified organic meat you’re saying you care about how animals are treated and rewarding farmers and butchers for making the choice to treat animals humanely.”

So how do you know it’s certified organic?

The simplest way is to look on the label! In Australia, there are seven registered companies that provide certification – Australian Organic, NASAA, AusQual, Biodynamic Research Institute, Organic Food Chain, Safefood Production Queensland and Tasmanian Organic-dynamic Producers. All of these companies must abide by a base level standard as directed by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.  Each company has a distinctive logo showing that the product has been accredited and provides an accreditation number.

ACO logo

Your butcher can stock meat that is certified, but it must be segregated from conventional products in the shop. If he makes his own sausages, rissoles and other value-add products, he must be a certified organic butcher for those products to maintain the organic status. That means all his ingredients will be certified organic and that some additives cannot be used at all, such as the preservative sulphur dioxide. The labels he uses can bear the mark of the certification company to show it is organic.

Where to find them?

Unfortunately, there is no single directory of all the registered organic butchers to simplify matters. Each of the companies mentioned earlier has a list of butchers that are registered with them – start with the bigger companies such as Australian Organic and NASAA.  A good old fashion search on the internet will also point you in the right direction to find your local butcher or online delivery service. Lastly, Ask! If your local butcher doesn’t stock organic produce, ask who does or make the request to have him stock it for you. Creating demand will increase supply and see more and more farmers coming onboard to ensuring environmental and animal well being.

Why so many organic certifications?

There are two base level organic standards that the certification companies abide by, defined by the National Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Produce (export standards) and the Australian Standard for Organic and Biodynamic Products (domestic and import standard) referred to as AS6000-2009. The National standard was devised by AQIS in 1992 to provide a guideline for exporters into overseas markets.

For many years the National standard was used as a ‘de-facto’ standard for domestic use and has since evolved into the formal domestic standard used today, mediated by the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF). The use of the domestic standard enables the ACCC to operate under the Trade Practices Act to regulate the use of ‘organic’ and ‘biodynamic’ claims on local and imported products.

The Australian Organic ‘bud’ logo is one of the labels used to identify products that have been certified organic. Once accredited, the meat and meat products can be labelled with the logo to attest to the legitimacy of the butcher and their products.

Deborah Andrich is a writer and sustainability specialist.

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