Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Beyond Organic

Christiansen’s Hog Heaven raises “All Natural, Humanely Treated, Pasture Raised Berkshire (Kurobuta) Pork”. So does that mean we raise “organic” pork? The answer is yes and no. While our pork is organic in every sense of the term, we are not certified organic by the USDA. We don’t feed our pigs antibiotic laced feed or give them hormones etc… We feed our pigs fresh, Utah grown grains consisting of wheat, barley, oats, and triticale.  They also get alfalfa as well as the pasture they graze. We go beyond organic by not just controlling the feed, but also controlling the pigs’ environment. Pork can be certified organic while the pigs suffer inhumane living conditions their entire life. We don’t believe pork raised under traditional methods is “organic” just because the corn they eat is organic corn. Unfortunately, consumers have the misconception that “organic” labeled food is truly natural and in the case of meat, raised ethically.

To be certified “organic”, farms have to pay fees, fill out government forms, and keep a daily log of farm activities. For a small farm like ours, this is cost prohibitive and more importantly time consuming. Raising pigs on pasture the way we do already requires more time and money than concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). We are busy and simply don’t have the time to keep the logs necessary to prove to the government that we are organic. If anything, we would rather take the time to update our blog once in a while and prove to you, our customer, that we are “organic”. The additional fees that the government charges our farm would have to be passed on to our customers. This makes our pork less affordable to some families. We would rather our customers learn first hand that our farm is devoted to natural pork while keeping an affordable price point.

There are also some other issues with organic foods that consumers fail to realize. Since the USDA is a government agency, it is subject to lobbying. During the past 20 years, large corporate owned farms have observed smaller farms charge a little bit more for products labeled organic. The truth behind organic is that it is less efficient than using chemicals and fertilizers to maximize production. This means more land and labor are needed to produce the same amount of product. There is also a higher waste factor as farms cannot sell fruit that has worm holes in it; something that a chemical can prevent. Also, animals raised in confinement without constant antibiotics will get sick; and disease can quickly spread throughout a CAFO killing a lot of animals or making them unsuitable for processing. Large corporations don’t sell organic products because they feel a moral obligation to. They do it because they see small farms charging higher prices than they are able to charge. These corporations have gone to Washington and lobbied for exceptions to USDA organic regulations in order to accommodate themselves and their profits. An example of this was seen in December 2005, when the 2006 agricultural appropriations bill was passed with a rider allowing 38 synthetic ingredients to be used in organic foods. When a regulatory agency such as the USDA gives in to big corporations, they hurt the small farms and devalue a well intended label. It becomes nothing more than an advertising ploy.

After graduating with a Bachelor’s in Agricultural Science, I was very excited to take a job with a large farm in Arizona. They grew vegetables with tomatoes being their focus of production. I noticed that they had a label on their tomatoes. It was an award given by a certain organization of chefs. At that time they had “won” the best tasting tomato several years in a row. This was an award they were very proud of and bragged about it to their customers. It turns out that they “won” the award by paying a company somewhere in the neighborhood of $100,000 every year. They just slapped it on their tomatoes to help sell more of them.

For these reasons, we currently have decided to not participate in the USDA certified organic program. Since we choose not to participate, it is illegal to use the term organic to promote our food. Similar to how potato farmers in Idaho cannot mention the word "Idaho" in any way unless they join Idaho Potatoes. As stated above, we would rather educate our customers about the natural or organic process in which we raise our pork rather than dupe you with a label. Regardless of how we raise our pigs, in the end it is the customers who decide how pork is raised. You see, every time we buy food, we vote for the method that it was raised. We vote with our wallets. If you average the price of the various cuts of pork found at the supermarket, you will find that our pork is cheaper! Not only that, but you're buying a product that is beyond organic, premium gourmet quality, and mouth-wateringly delicious. So go ahead and vote for Christiansen's Hog Heaven!


Rose said...

Excellent post. We get a lot of folks asking if we are organic, and I tell them that "organic" is a legal word. Some of them just walk off and say they only buy organic. Most folks stay to listen to my explanation of how we raise our animals and those people usually become loyal customers.

Christiansen's Hog Heaven said...

We don't sell at farmer's markets YET, although we plan to in 2010. So, I have not experienced anybody walking off. Currently, some of our customers find us online and the majority by word of mouth, so I suppose if there are those ignorant enough to decline our pork because it isn't labled organic they can simply close their browser. Our customers seem to be more concerned about the whole package (humane, clean, sustainable, premium quality, pastured) than about being certified organic. I suppose by the time they contact us they have already viewed our site or been referred by a friend. I recently drove by a turkey farm that was raising "Free Range" turkeys. It consisted of a very small cramped outdoor pen. I don't know if the turkeys could even stretch their wings if they wanted to. Technically it qualifies as free range since the turkeys are granted outdoor access. Unfortunately the customers buying the turkey will assume it was happily and humanely raised on a pasture where the turkey can run around and be a turkey. These vague guidelines provided for the various labels continue to hurt the small farmer and benefit factory farm corporations.