This publication reviews nutrition and management practices that allow producers to raise pigs under natural conditions or in a manner that allows for organic certification. An extensive list of requirements for organic production of pork has been established and is discussed below. However, we know of no similar requirements for natural pork production. There is no legal or broadly accepted definition of natural. Consequently, individual marketing groups have established guidelines for the pork production that may be labeled natural. With no legal description of natural, one has difficulty defining this type of pork production. Natural pork production likely includes a ban on use of antibiotics and other synthetic growth promoters, possibly a ban on use of animal by-products in feeds, increased space allowances for animals, and use of other production practices thought to enhance animal welfare. Often, natural pork production has requirements quite similar to standards for organic production, but they are not quite as comprehensive. Producers interested in natural production of pork may wish to identify a group that markets natural pork and follow its standards. This publication focuses on nutrition and management requirements for organic pork production, but much of its content can be applied to production systems for natural pork.
Unlike natural pork production, there are extensive standards for organic production of pork. Several international and national groups have offered definitions for organic agriculture. Those definitions speak to environmental, social, and ethical goals and principles. Organic livestock production is defined and structured as a part of the whole farm ecosystem. The National Standards for Organic Agriculture published by the Canadian General Standards Board speaks to livestock production as follows:
Provide attentive care that promotes the health and meets the behavioral needs of livestock. Organically raised livestock are managed to prevent disease and promote wellness through a combination of organically-produced diet, adequate housing, ethical animal husbandry, handling practices that minimize stress, and regular monitoring.
United States National Organic Standards were announced by the USDA on December 20, 2000. The U.S. National Organic Standards are available on the National Organic Program website at www.ams.usda.gov/nop/, linked from the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service. Feed manufactured for use in organic pork production can only contain ingredients from three categories:
Organically produced pork must carry the USDA seal for organic products to be sold as certified organic pork. A third party must certify that feeding and production requirements listed in the U.S. National Organic Standards were followed to allow pork to carry the USDA seal. Certifying agencies have 18 months from the time the standards were announced to comply with these national standards. While not required by the national standards, some certifying agencies may institute more stringent rules for any producer seeking that agencys certification. Producers should be familiar with the national standards and in communication with their certifying agency to avoid practices that may disqualify them as certified organic.
Although the use of antibiotics or drugs is not allowed in animals that are sold to organic markets, this does not suggest that animal welfare be ignored if animals become sick or in need of medication. In fact, the National Standards on Organic Agricultural Production and Handling (2000) establish that a producer of organic livestock must administer vaccines and other veterinary biologics as needed to protect the well-being of animals in his or her care. When preventative practices and veterinary biologics are inadequate to prevent sickness, the producer may administer medications included on the National List of synthetic substances allowed for use in organic production systems. The ruling goes on to state that the producer must not withhold medical treatment from a sick animal to maintain its organic status. All appropriate medications and treatments must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production standards fail. Livestock that are treated with prohibited materials must be clearly identified and shall not be sold, labeled, or represented as organic.
Corn-soybean meal based diets are typically used in midwestern pork production because of the abundant supply, high nutritional value, and competitive cost. Similar formulations are being used for organic production with organically-produced corn and soybean meal. However, the high cost and limited availability of organically-produced corn and soybean meal may preclude their use in some organic production systems. As a result, there is considerable interest in alternative ingredients to reduce cost and diversify crop rotations on organic farms. The high cost of organic grain and protein sources also suggests that producers explore the maximization of pasture contributions during months when grazing is practical. Nutrient contributions from pasture should be considered when formulating complete diets.
In accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act, this material is available in alternative formats upon request. Please contact your University of Minnesota Extension office or the Extension Store at (800) 876-8636.