The #1 Reason Organic Meat Is So Freaking Expensive

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There’s no doubt about it: buying organic – especially when it comes to meat and dairy – is pretty darn pricey. In case you were wondering, here’s why…

Whether you’re doing so for health reasons, or for the health of the environment, there’s no question that buying organic food supports a much more sustainable form of agriculture than “conventional” chemical-input-based farming.

Unfortunately, many people find organic food prohibitively expensive – especially when it comes to animal products – arguably the most polluted (and polluting) of all foods when it comes to conventionally raised.

So why the heck is organic meat so expensive?

While prices for organic produce have declined in recent years, organic meat and dairy remains as expensive as ever – and probably will for some time to come. Why? It’s all about the food, as this interesting article from Modern Farmer reveals….

Organic foods comprise nearly 5 percent of food sales in the US, while organic farm acreage is only about 0.6 percent of total US farmland, implying that most organic food is imported—as far from local as you can get. Pesticide-free, local veggies are relatively easy to come by, but in the meat department, the organic label is much less common than “hormone and antibiotic-free,” which doesn’t require livestock to be raised on organic feed.

Ask any organic livestock farmer about their number-one challenge and you’re likely to hear a common refrain: Finding a reliable source of organic feed is tough, and it often involves shipping it in by the ton from far away, which makes it expensive—and not to mention carbon-intensive.

So, the steep price of organic chicken you see at the grocery store is largely a reflection of the high cost farmers pay to import the organic grains to feed those birds…. The Wall Street Journal notes that the large food conglomerates, who own most of the organic food brands found in chain grocery stores, are addressing the problem by offering farmers financial incentives to ramp up organic production of the ingredients they need—or even buying large conventional farms and converting them to organic. These are patterns that result in further corporate consolidation of the organic food supply (and, some would say, an erosion of the organic label’s integrity). But most mainstream media articles on the subject fail to mention that there are smaller, regionally-based organic producers who are taking a different approach to overcoming the organic feed bottleneck.

Cameron Molberg, co-owner of Coyote Creek Farm, a producer of pastured, certified organic laying hens and beef cattle outside of Austin, Texas, says the narrowest point in the organic feed bottleneck is caused by a lack of feed mills that process organic grains. “It’s an infrastructural issue,” he says, noting that mills are required to be certified organic by the USDA to process feed that will be sold with an organic label. The USDA’s rules are designed to prevent contamination of organic feed with conventional grains and are so stringent that existing conventional mills are reluctant to accept orders from organic farmers….

In 2007, Coyote Creek took a leap of faith and decided to open their own organic feed mill—the first in Texas and one of only a dozen or so in the United States. They began by selling on a small scale at local farmers markets, but have grown dramatically to keep up with demand; they’re now a regional supplier to Whole Foods Markets. Molberg’s confidence that feed mills are the crucial cog in scaling up organic livestock production is based on his own observations: “When we opened up the mill, organic dairy, egg, and broiler production skyrocketed in Texas,” he says.

Read more about the Coyote Creek Mill’s efforts here


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