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Meat Labels May Tout 'Organic'

Organic meat has been around as long as there have been organic dairy products. But until recently you'd never know it. Federal rules prohibited use of the word "organic" in meat labels. Now those rules have been changed so certified organic meat and poultry is starting to show up at stores around the country.

CBS News Saturday Morning Consumer Correspondent Herb Weisbaum reports that at the Wedge, a co-op in Minneapolis, shoppers are mighty picky about their produce. They're willing to pay premium prices for organic fruits and vegetables.

For the first time, they can also buy certified organic meats in the store's butcher shop.

"It gives you some more options as far as knowing exactly what you're getting," says shopper Mary Sellke.

That's because the store can now use signs telling shoppers that it's selling organic meat.

Until a few months ago, the Wedge could only call this meat "natural" and hope customers could read between the lines. Now, there's no doubt.

"We're trying to tell people the truth about all our products," says Elizabeth Archerd, head of member services at the Wedge.

"Customers have been wanting this. They wanted to know exactly what is organic and what is not, because the term natural is not a technical term; it doesn't mean anything," she says.

While almost any meat can be called natural, for it to be certified organic, a strict set of standards must be met. The cattle cannot be injected with hormones or antibiotics, or fed animal byproducts. They graze in open pastures with grass untreated with pesticides or herbicides.

"It's more work; yes it is," says Ben Cook, who raises organic cattle on his family farm in southwest Minnesota. Like most organic ranches, his is a fairly small operation.

"It's a lot more time consuming; there's more things you need to do," he says.

But the end result? "A high-quality animal that's healthy and [that] provides a good product for the consumer," Cook says.

That kind of care continues beyond the farm. Cook takes his cattle to Deutschland Meats, a mom-and-pop packing plant small enough to have special handling and no mix-ups with conventionally raised products.

In the end, being able to put organic on the label should help farmers like Ben Cook get a better price for their products. And let customers know for sure what they're getting.

"I've spent a lot of time trying to find organic sources and the fact that they can label it and there's some kind of way to tell helps," says shopper Suzie Black.

This story is a lesson in how slowly the wheels of government can turn. Organic farmers say they spent more than a decade convincing the agriculture department to allow them to label organic meat and poultry. And this is just a temporary victory for them. The department still hasn't settled on a final definition of the word organic so the rules could change again in the future

Reported by Herb Weisbaum
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