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Beef is produced commercially in several different ways. One of the more common methods of beef production is to keep the cattle on pasture for much of their lives, then move them to a feed lot for the last few months. During their lifetime beef cattle are often given injections to stimulate growth as well as antibiotics to treat or prevent illness, especially when they are crowded together in a feedlot. Beef that is raised without the use of any type of chemical additives, including antibiotics, is considered to be organic beef.
Routinely, beef cattle are injected with growth hormones in certain types of operations in the United States, Canada, and some other countries, in order to promote more efficient feed conversion and thus make the operation more financially successful. Many people fear that hormones stay in the meat and can affect the people who eat it. Beef that has been treated with hormones is not allowed to be imported into some areas of Europe, because of concerns about cancer. Organic beef growers do not use any hormones in their cattle, relying instead on sound breeding and management practices to produce their meat.
Antibiotics are another cause for concern in many conventional beef cattle operations, since traces of antibiotics can be found in meat long after the drugs were used. The use of various kinds of antibiotics is routine in many places and the medicines are injected whether the animal seems sick or not. This is done partly to reduce the chance of illness in the cattle and partly because injections of antibiotics help cattle gain weight more rapidly in many cases. Growers of organic beef do not use any antibiotics at all, so buyers of this type of meat know that they are not being exposed needlessly.
Some beef producers feed their cattle recycled plastic pellets in place of natural fiber, and food that contains animal by-products, including powdered beef parts. Organically raised cattle must never be given any feed that is not 100% vegetarian. Ruminants are not made to eat meat, and it is believed that such practices help to spread serious illnesses such as mad cow disease. Ranchers who produce organic beef feed only natural forage, organic hay, and organic grains and supplements.
In general, cattle that are grown to produce organic beef should lead lives that are as close to natural as possible, which generally means that they are raised on pasture and not in confinement. They must be allowed free access to fresh air, water and sunshine. All of their food must be produced organically, which means that organic beef must only be fed grass and hay that is free of pesticides and herbicides. Calves which will be raised as organic beef must come from cows that are started on an organic diet several months before the calf is born.