by Patrick Appel
A reader writes:
The recent topic of organic farming is one that's very dear to my heart. A very close family friend of mine raises grass-fed beef in Pennsylvania, and has refused to go "organic" (as defined by the USDA) since the requirements to earn that label are often as inhumane as some of the practices found on the feed lots. In order to be able to label his beef "organic" he'd be forced to withhold treatments to numerous common ailments that all animals suffer from.
He'd be forbidden to use any antibiotics, even if it was to treat an infection that was easily treatable. His cattle lead about as good of a life as any animal confined to a farm can have. They have swaths of grazing land to roam, are never confined to a pen, and the result is some of the finest beef I've ever tasted. But the reality is that his farm would be much less "sustainable" if he tried to fit the qualifications for organic beef. He'd be forced to let cows and calves suffer and even die of simple infections even if they could be easily treated with a shot of antibiotics.
I think you're right to be wary of the label of organic as being the equivalent of the term sustainable. I buy organic all the time, but the two terms are not necessarily at all related.