Is It Really Necessary to Buy Organic Meat? A Butcher Explains

Updated 04/18/19

For many Americans, this once-simple question has become increasingly difficult to answer: Where is your meat sourced from? "Most cities lack a trusted local butcher—someone who works directly with farmers, is committed to the humane treatment of animals, and transparent about the supply chain," say James Peisker and Chris Carter, co-founders of Nashville-based butcher Porter Road. As a result, the duo recently took their brick-and-mortar offering online to become "that long-lost local butcher for everyone across the country."

If you don't know where your meat is sourced from, Peisker and Carter point out that it's not too late to find out—and change your shopping habits if need be. "It is important to know where meat is sourced from because it allows you to further understand how the animal and product is treated throughout the entire life cycle process," they explain. "All of which in turn affects taste, quality, and even the environment." Ahead, they talk us through the most common myths that lead to confusion so you can find the best organic, responsibly sourced meat.

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True: There Is No Such Thing As Hormone-Free Beef

Organic meat comes from animals that are given no antibiotics or growth hormones—something which is crucial but often misunderstood, says Peisker and Carter. "We all have natural hormones that help our bodies function, likewise animals also have naturally accruing hormones. There is no such thing as hormone-free beef," Peisker points out.

When butchers refer to hormone-free meat, they're talking about a specific type of hormone. "What we are concerned with is the growth hormone rBGH, which is given to young beef or to dairy cattle. That hormone is outlawed in many different countries across the world because of the adverse effects it has on humans and cattle," he explains. In short, yes, it's important to buy organic meat if you are concerned about consuming growth hormones. Due to the size of the farms they partner with, Porter Road doesn't pay for USDA Organic grading but their animals are pasture raised and never fed GMOs, antibiotics, or growth hormones.

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False: You Should Always Buy Chicken Labelled “Hormone-Free”

These claims can be misleading, says the duo. "Unfortunately, there are lots of companies that make a living on trying to misguide you into buying their products. Sometimes buzzwords are just that—buzzwords." This is certainly true when it comes to chicken that's labeled hormone-free. "Hormones are banned in the U.S. for pigs and chickens, so a label that says hormone-free chicken only means that they are following the law," says Carter. 

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True: You Can't Judge Meat Quality by Looking at It

"Unless you are a scientist and run tests, you will not be able to tell [if meat contains growth hormones and antibiotics] from just looking at it," says Peisker. That's why it's crucial to know where meat is sourced from. "If you are going to judge on looks alone, look for darker meat—not gray or oxidized meat but darker in hue." In other words, opt for chicken thighs and breasts that are darker in color, pork with a red tint, and beef with a dark red hue. "Also, pork should have fat on it. Pigs and chickens raised inside generally are leaner, which is not a good thing."

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False: Organic and Non-Organic Meat Taste the Same

The way an animal is raised absolutely impacts the quality and flavor of its meat. "If it isn't raised right, it can't be delicious," says Carter. "The flavor of meat is impacted from every aspect of the animal's life. An animal raised in misery is going to taste bad."

Peisker and Carter make sure they partner with farms that raise animals outside on pasture or in the woods. "The exercise that our animals are able to get helps to develop their muscles, [which] creates a darker color and an amazingly delicious deep flavor." Flavor aside, it's better for your health, the animal, and the environment—time to make the switch. 

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