Figure 1. Organic Certification Process The cost of certification varies widely depending on the certifying agent and the size, type, and complexity of the operation and ranges from a few hundred dollars to several thousands. It is important that producers understand the fee structure and billing cycle of the certifying agent before applying. In general, certifying agents charge an application fee, renewal fee, assessment on annual production or sales, and inspection fees. After a producer is certified, the USDA Organic Certification Cost-Share Programs can reimburse producers up to 75 percent of certification costs (Organic Integrity Quarterly 2013). The organic movement started in the United States (U.S.) in the early part of the twentieth century. The organic movement gained more visibility in the 1960’s and 1970’s when labeled organic produce began showing up in the market place (Kuepper 2010). Since the 1990’s, there has been a steady increase in the demand for organic products. The organic agriculture sector was growing around 20 percent a year in 1994 and even during the recession of 2008, the organic sector in the U.S. grew 17 percent (Kuepper 2010). Organic production in the U.S. is fairly small with 0.5 percent of all pasture land being certified organic and 0.8 percent of all cropland certified organic (2013 Greene).
Though it is still a relatively small component of U.S. beef sales (less than 1 percent), organic beef sales rose to over $350 million in 2011, up from $100 million in sales in 2009 (USDA-ERS 2011). The trend toward increased consumption of organic beef is projected to continue. The chance to enter an expanding market will entice some beef producers to transition from a traditional beef production system to an organic beef production system.
Definition and requirements
Until 2002 USDA had no rules regulating what could be labeled as organic beef. These rules were revised in 2006 and again in 2012. According to USDA, organic beef is defined as a beef product from a recognized third party-verified organic production system which collects information on the history of every animal in the program, including breed history, veterinary care, and feed. To be certified as organic, all cattle must be born and raised on certified organic pasture, never receive antibiotics, never receive growth-promoting hormones, must be fed only 100 percent certified organic grains and grasses, and must have unrestricted outdoor access to organic land meeting all organic crop production standards (USDA 2012). Producers must also accommodate the health and natural behavior of their animals year round; this means managing organically from the last third of gestation. All processors must have organic certification as well, in order for beef to be certified as organic for sale (USDA 2013).