Organic Lamb Profile

Revised November, 2018.

Overview

Organic meat production is governed by USDA’s national organic standards 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.

Organic standards state that animals must be raised using organic management practices and that organically-raised livestock must be separated from their conventionally-raised counterparts.   The use of growth-enhancing hormones and sub-therapeutic antibiotics is prohibited.  Livestock can receive preventive medical care (e.g., vaccines) and dietary vitamin and mineral supplements.  Livestock can only be fed 100% organically-produced feed that is free of animal by-products.  Furthermore, livestock must have access to the outdoors, shade, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight.  Organically-raised lamb must have access to pasture.  Production is predicated on minimal use of off-farm inputs.  Organic lambs are raised without the use of antibiotics and growth hormone stimulants.  Lambs intended for meat products must be produced using organic processes beginning with the last one-third of the gestation cycle.  

Organic food sales totaled $43.3 billion in 2015 which represented 5% of U.S. food sales.  Health-conscious consumers are driving increased sales of organic and natural food products. Food products offered by natural foods supermarkets tend to be less processed and frequently are free of preservatives, hormones, and artificial ingredients (OTA, 2015).  

As demand for organic products has increased, the United States has converted some cropland to organic production.  As of 2011, the most recent survey data, the United States had 3.1 million acres of cropland and 2.3 million acres of pasture and rangeland with organic specifications.  That same year, the United States had more than 5,914 organically certified sheep and lambs (USDA).

Processing

Marketing channels for organic products depend on the size of the market.  For national distribution, products tend to move from the farm level to a cooperative processor and on to retailers.  Production also moves from processors to distributors before reaching retail outlets.

In general, most producers of organic lamb do not have enough volume to justify owning their own slaughtering and processing facilities.  Lambs are custom-processed and typically marketed as a whole carcass.  In addition to being sold directly to customers, organic lamb may be marketed through health food retail stores and natural foods restaurants.
Businesses that process organic foods must also be certified by USDA-accredited certifying agents.

USDA-accredited certifying agents must also certify processors of organic foods.  Processors with organic sales totaling $5,000 or less are exempt from the certification rule.  Non-certified processors, producers and handlers are allowed to use the term “organic” in compliance with labeling requirements.

Competition

New Zealand and Australia will likely be strong competitors in world organic niche markets.  However, the market will remain quite small.  Furthermore, given that many purchasers of organic products also desire local production sources and traceability, it is likely that domestic producers of organic lamb will be able to compete with New Zealand and Australia organic lamb exports.  The production cost advantages offered by these major producers will be less advantageous in the organic market given that many organic food consumers are much less price-sensitive than consumers of non-organic foods.

Sources

Organic Trade Association (OTA), 2015

USDA Economic Research Service

USDA Economic Research Service, 2011 data

Census of Agriculture, National Ag Statistics Service, USDA.

Recent Growth Patterns in the U.S. Organic Foods Market, Economic Research Service, USDA.

Sheep and Goats: Frequently Asked Questions - ATTRA Sustainable Agriculture

Organic Production, ERS, USDA.

Organic Trade Association Overview

U.S. Organic Farming in 2000-2001, ERS, USDA.

National Organic Program, Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA.

Links Checked July 2018.