Nutritional Value of Organic vs. Conventional Beef

May 9, 2015 12:10 PM
Nutritional Value of Organic vs. Conventional Beef

The natural and organic beef market share has been increasing over the past few decades.
By: Julie Walker and Amanda Blair, SDSU Extension

In 2010, the natural and organic beef market share was at 1.6%. In April 2014, the USDA Economic Research Service indicated organic sales accounted for over 4% of US food sales. Focusing on the organic and natural beef share of the total beef (dollar), the National Cattlemen’s Beef Board reported that natural and organic beef had 6.3% share for the 4th quarter of 2014 with conventional beef market share at 93.7% (FreshLook Marketing Group, LLC).

What is the difference between organic and natural programs? Organic production requires producers to manage livestock to meet both animal health and welfare standards. While vaccinations are allowed, antibiotics or growth hormones are not permitted, animals should be fed only 100% organic feedstuffs and should be allowed access to the outdoors. Organic producers work with certifying agents who ensure USDA organic products meet or exceed all organic standards. Additional information about organic programs can be found at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service National Organic Program website.

The USDA definition of natural is focused on the beef product and states that natural beef should contain no artificial ingredients or added colors and can only be minimally processed. Many natural programs have animal management requirements beyond the USDA definition that can include no antibiotics, no growth promotants, no animal by-products, restricted use of vaccines, and third-party verification of management practices.

Purchase drivers for selecting organic foods can be divided in two categories: 1) healthier choice and 2) socially conscious reasons (The Nielsen Company, Global Online Survey, Q1 2010). A lean beef 3-ounce serving provides:

  • 51% of the Daily Value (DV) for protein
  • 37% DV for vitamin B12
  • 38% DV for zinc
  • 14% DV for iron

The production system whether conventional or organic does not change the nutrients contained in a 3-ounce serving of beef. Conventionally-produced beef may have been implanted with growth promotants. However, according to numerous research studies, beef from non-implanted steers had 5 ng/500 g of estrogenic activity compared to implanted steers which had 7 ng/500 g (One pound equals 454 g).

Consumers may prefer a specific production system for the beef they want to consume. However, it is important to remember that all production systems provide consumers with safe product selections and that the nutrient content of beef is similar across the different production systems (organic, natural or conventional).

Consumers will have a preference for either organic, natural or conventional beef. However, it is important to remember, that regardless of the production system, consumers are assured a safe wholesome product with similar nutrient contents across the different production systems.

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