Organic Beef Profile

Revised April 2012 by Gary Brester, professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University,

By Reginald Clause, Iowa State University Extension, Revised June 2011.


Organic meat production is governed by USDA’s national organic standards implemented in 2002.  These standards state that animals must be raised using organic management practices and that organically-raised livestock must be separated from their conventional counterparts.   The use of growth-enhancing hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics is prohibited.  Cattle can receive preventive medical care (e.g., vaccines) and dietary vitamin and mineral supplements.  Cattle can only be fed 100% organically-produced feed that is free of animal by-products.  Furthermore, cattle must have access to the outdoors, shade, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight.  Organically-raised cows must have access to pasture.

In 2008, there were 2 million acres of organic certified rangeland and 63,680 organically-certified beef cows.  The price of natural/organic beef averaged $5.48 in the first quarter of 2011 which represented a premium of $1.70 per pound.  Such premiums are the result of consumer demand as well as the additional costs of producing organic beef.


Organic beef sales totaled $100 million in 2009.  Organically-produced beef is available in some retail grocery stores, specialty meat outlets, and directly from ranch locations, farmers’ markets, and the Internet.  Movement of products across state lines, however, requires that meat be processed at a USDA-inspected facility.

Certified Organic Standards

USDA standards for organic food were implemented in 2002.  The USDA’s definition for certified organic is “agricultural products that have been grown and processed according to specific standards of various state and private certification organizations.”  Certifying agents review farm applications, and qualified inspectors conduct annual on-site inspections.  Farm records must track all management practices and materials used in organic production.  A certified operation must have a written Organic Farm Plan and make it available to the public upon request.  An exemption is made to the certification rule for operations with gross agricultural receipts of $5,000 or less.

Businesses that process organic foods must also be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents.  As of spring 2011, the USDA had accredited 53 domestic certifying agents.


Most organic beef producers operate diversified farm/ranch enterprises.  Some belong to cooperatives that provide a marketing system for specific organic products.  Organic beef producers may use either an organic grain-fed or an organic grass-fed system.  The former system uses organic grain, hay, and supplements, while the latter primarily uses organic pasture and hay to produce market weight beef cattle.  The costs of producing organic beef are higher than commodity beef because of lower productivity, increased processing and marketing costs, and additional risks.


Organic beef imports supplement domestic U.S. production as a means for meeting domestic demand.  Currently, most organic beef imports originate in Canada, Australia, and South America.


2008 Organic Survey, The Census of Agriculture, National Agricultural Statistics Service, USDA, 2010.

Alternative Beef Production Systems - What's in a Name? Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA, 2010.

The National Organic Program, Ag Marketing Service, USDA.

National/Organic Beef, Beef Retail, National Cattlemen's Beef Association.

Organic Agriculture, ERS, USDA.

Organic Production, ERS, USDA.

Profile prepared May 2006.