What is organic pork?
Organic pork includes products from hogs that have been produced and meat that has been processed and handled in compliance with the USDA’s Organic Standards. These standards involve an entire process in which synthetic inputs into all phases of animal production and meat processing and handling are prohibited.

What is the producer’s role in organic pork?
To meet organic standards, producers must abide by USDA-defined specifications for production. Specific guidelines are given preventing synthetic inputs and prescribing production practices for living conditions, manure management, sources of livestock, livestock health care, feed and water, audit trail, and slaughter. Any synthetic products, including antibiotics and vaccines, genetic engineering, feed supplements or additives, and pesticides and fertilizers, must be in accordance with the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substance available from USDA.

What is the meat processor’s and handler’s role in organic pork?
To produce pork that is in compliance with organic processing, handling and labeling standards, meat processors and handlers must adhere to the following, according to USDA:

  • Refrain from adding synthetic artificial ingredients, additives, preservatives and irradiation to keep the product in its “purist” form;
  • Administer minimal processing to ensure original integrity of the food is maintained;
  • Make sure products are not packaged in materials or storage containers that contain synthetic fungicides, preservatives, or fumigants; and
  • Insure appropriate distinct identification labels are applied.

How is organic pork identified?
When labeling organic pork, one must abide by the new national organic standard for labeling options set by USDA. The USDA organic seal indicates only that the product is certified to a certain production and/or handling “process” or “system.” The organic seal does not convey a message of food safety or nutritional value. The USDA organic certification seal is only applicable for the first two options below:
1. “100 percent organic” - Products produced exclusively using organic methods as defined by the USDA organic regulation.
2. “Organic” – 95 percent or greater of the ingredients (by weight, excluding water and salt) are organically produced. The remaining five percent must be on the National List of Allowed Synthetic and Prohibited Non-Synthetic Substances.
3. “Made with organic” - 70-95 percent of the ingredients are organically produced. The organic ingredients need to be listed on the principle display panel.
4. Products with less than 70 percent of the ingredients organically produced have the option to include “X % organic” on the information panel. The organic ingredients need only to be listed on the ingredient statement.

What is natural pork?
Natural pork includes products that have been processed and handled in compliance with USDA natural standards. These standards prohibit the use of artificial ingredients, coloring ingredients, or chemicals and require minimal meat processing.

What is the producer’s role in natural pork?
To meet natural standards, the producer must adhere to the current production guidelines for all federally inspected pork as defined by FDA to prevent violative animal health product tissue residues. Other criteria for natural labeling are the responsibilities of meat processors and handlers.

What is the meat processor’s and handler’s role in natural pork?
To produce pork that is in compliance with natural processing, handling and labeling standards according to the USDA. The distinction of natural pork from all other traditional pork is that natural pork cannot be more than minimally processed nor contain artificial ingredients, coloring ingredient, or chemical preservatives.
Minimal processing includes:

  • Traditional processes used to make food edible, to preserve it or to make it safe for human consumption (i.e. smoking, roasting, freezing, drying and fermenting); and
  • Physical processes that do not fundamentally alter the raw product and/or that only separate whole, intact food into component parts (i.e. grinding meat).

How is natural pork identified?
A pork product can be labeled natural provided sufficient compliance with USDA guidelines as described above. All products labeled natural should include a brief statement that explains what is meant by the term (i.e. “this product is a natural food because it contains no artificial ingredients and is only minimally processed”).

How does this affect cooking?
Preparation methods remain the same as with any pork product – be careful not to overcook. USDA recommends that pork products be cooked to a final internal temperature of 160° F. using a meat thermometer.

Why is this being brought into the market?
As with many food trends, consumer demand has created niche markets. Some consumers perceive natural/organic pork to be more nutritious and environmentally friendly than traditional pork. However, there is no scientific evidence to support this claim.

What are similar niche marketing opportunities for pork products?
Producers may elect to take other steps to produce pork without synthetic inputs or with specific production practices that may make their product eligible for special claims, which creates their own niche market. Documentation to verify the practices of the production system may be required depending on the specific market. Examples of such claims include “no antibiotics used” and “free range” pork.

Is organic/natural pork better for you?
According to USDA, “no distinctions should be made between organically and non-organically produced products in terms of quality, appearance, or safety.” In other words, no claims accurately can be made that organic or natural pork is in some way inherently better than pork produced by traditional production practices.

Sources: American Meat Science Association/National Pork Board, 1998. Organic Trade Association, 1999 & 2001. USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service, 2001

For more information: www.ams.usda.gov/nop/

National Pork Board