“Natural”… What does it mean?

“Natural”?  What does it mean?

The short answer is; Not much!  If you see this descriptor on a food label, be cautious and ask questions before purchasing.  As pioneers in the organic food movement, we fought long and hard to achieve a federal regulation which defines the word “organic” and requires that those who use it on their label or in marketing, follow the legal definition of organic production practices.  That means things like no pesticides, no GMO’s, grazing in summer for farm animals, outdoor access even in winter, etc.  Lots of other things are included – you can read the entire document here.  (link) Those who go through the rigorous process of certification can place the Canadian Organic Logo on their products. (insert logo)

There is no such framework around the use of the term “natural”.  So included in the “natural” family of products out there in the market are the good, the bad and the ugly so to speak.  It can mean pretty well whatever the vendor wants it to.  Unfortunately, studies have shown that in the minds of consumers, the two terms; “natural” and “organic” are often understood as interchangeable or at least very similar.  This is not the case.  Organic has a well defined set of rules, and mandatory 3rd party inspection with oversight by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.  Natural means whatever the seller wants it to.  So this begs the question:  Why is Zettel Family Farms offering “Natural” products and how are these different from our regular organic offerings?

In each case, the answer may be different, but in general we will designate a product as natural, not organic, when it originates on our farm, has been produced using organic methods, but is not compliant with Organic Product Regulations.  Here are some specific examples;

Natural beef

  • An animal was purchased from a non-organic farm.

    • This was the case with our bull.  The breeder, Uncle Pat, uses excellent methods of feeding and husbandry almost identical to ours, but since the paperwork of certification was not in place, this animal would never be eligible for organic certification.
  • An animal has received a therapeutic antibiotic.

    • Under the Organic Standard, once an animal has received an antibiotic it can never be sold as certified organic meat.  While we seldom use any medications in our livestock care, relying on the highest quality of feed and optimum environment to prevent health problems, there are exceptions.  In our experience even with our tremendously robust and disease resistant Galloway cattle, there will always be one or two babies that pick up a diarrhea bug which can easily progress to a secondary bacterial pneumonia.  Our other rare but painful malady in cattle is bacterial hoofrot.  Both of these ailments respond beautifully to antibiotics.  While we know of and have used other natural therapies, our experience is that they are not as effective, and involve more suffering for the animal, so we use penicillin.  Depending on the brand, the label withdrawal period is between 2 and 30 days.  We make sure that we wait at least 90 days between treatment and slaughter, and designate that meat as natural.
  • Processing not certified.

    • In the case of our all beef summer sausage, the meat is certified, but we have to send it to another facility to be made into summer sausage.  They use no nitrates in our sausage, so it would probably comply with organic regulations, but at this point it is not feasible to undertake the certification of their plant.

We believe that each of these three examples results in a product which is essentially organic, but technically non-compliant.  We offer the “natural” at a 10% discount from our Organic counterpart, as a way of saying “thank you” to those of you who agree to purchase it.  But we also respect the high standards of those who choose to stick to all certified product.  Bravo!

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