Pastured vs. “All Natural”

Product claims when buying pork can make your head hurt, especially if you are trying to buy food that you truly feel good about. “All natural” is an particularly problematic claim that has been applied to products and protocols that are quite obviously not natural by any stretch of the imagination.  It is essentially meaningless, and we think consumers should ignore it.

Because it is a heavily regulated term that requires USDA certification, many consumers reach instead for the Organic label.  While “organic” means quite a bit in the produce aisle, for meat we wish the standards were stronger when it comes to animal welfare. 

USDA certification for organic pork does forbid the use of growth hormones (note that this is prohibited in all US pork), antibiotics, gestation crates, and feed that is genetically modified, contains pesticide residues or animal by-products along with a long list of questionable additives.

This is all wonderful, and far superior to industrial pork – and we encourage everyone to choose this over the alternative.  But there is no ban on standard industry practices of tail docking, de-tusking, septum nose rings, all kinds of “growth enhancers,” and most importantly, allowing for pigs to engage in their natural behaviors, outdoors on pasture.

The USDA defines pasture-raised pork as pigs that have continuous and unconfined access to pasture throughout their entire life cycle. The animals are free to move around, socialize, and forage in fields. Their diet is supplemented with grass, clovers, alfalfa, shrubs, young trees, hay and many other forages, along with whey or grain (look for organic or non-GMO).  At Walden Local Meat Co. our pork comes from farmers who pledge to never use pesticides or herbicides on their pastures either.

This isn’t just important for the animals wellbeing. It makes for more flavorful & more healthful products. Simply put, healthy pigs produce healthy meat. 

Pastured pork is noticeably more flavorful, as the variety in their diet gives the pork flavor complexity and depth. It is nutritionally superior as well, containing higher levels of CLA (Conjugated Linoleic Acid), a “good” fatty acid that helps lower cholesterol, triglycerides, and has cancer fighting properties. It is also higher in Omega-3 fatty acids, beta carotene, and vitamin E… all nutrients that the pigs receive from foraged foods, grass and sunlight.

We set the bar very high for our pork, all of which is raised right here in New England.

If you ever have any questions about how our animals are raised, see our FAQs for our affidavit.

One Comment

  • Charley Cummings says:

    Alice, thanks so much for your comment. We’ve revised the post to incorporate some of your feedback – our intention was not at all to demonize "organic," and upon re-reading we realized we should have been more clear.

    To be clear, organic is absolutely a superior choice for all the reasons you mention – we simply wish it had as stringent requirements for animal welfare as it does for feed. For example there are many organic folks raising pigs with "access to the outdoors" that I think we can agree that this is often far from "pasture." Discouraging physical mutilations is also not the same thing as outright banning them. We also think as we regularly visit our farms personally, an affidavit and a close relationship can absolutely be more stringent than a government regulation.

    Anyhow we really appreciate the feedback, and applaud the work you’re doing as an organic, pastured producer. We’d love to chat further if you’d like to email us – info@waldenlocalmeat.com.