Organic is a standard that has the same meaning from Portland, Ore., to Portland, Maine, but natural doesn't. Organic meat, the fastest growing segment of the $14 billion organic food business, represents only 2 percent of organic sales, according to the Organic Trade Assn. USDA guidelines for organic specifies no growth hormones, antibiotics or artificial ingredients; processing must be minimal, and the animal feed itself must be certified 100 percent organic.
In calling his company's meat "naturally raised," Coleman says it's "one grain away from organic." In Coleman's program, as in the organic certification, animals are never administered growth hormones or antibiotics, are raised under sound animal husbandry practices and their feed contains no animal byproducts. The only difference is Coleman does not feed them certified organic feed.
Coleman wants natural to go back to the 1981 definition, addressing how the animals are raised and certifying they are not administered no growth hormones or growth modulators (products which enhance and make the growing process more efficient). On the feed side, no animal byproducts and no antibiotics are mixed into the feed. Coleman believes the term "naturally raised" will provide consumers with a standard of animal welfare and source verification.
Coleman's been fighting for these changes since November 1982, when under Memorandum 55, the USDA redefined natural products as being minimally processed and containing no artificial ingredients. That took the wind out of the sails for natural, according to Coleman, as the definition no longer pertained to a raising practice.
"No wonder consumers are confused," says Coleman. "Today, 25 years later, USDA AMS just conducted three listening sessions regarding how animals are naturally raised, while FSIS had a listening session on how meats are naturally processed."