Organic vs. Natural vs. Conventional Equine Feeds
Many people tell me they don’t buy their horses organic feed because it costs more - and I end up spending a half hour explaining to them how not buying organic feed is costing them more.
Now, I don’t have to go on and on about the benefits of natural vs. unnatural to you; you are reading this magazine so you are already tuned in to natural methods of caring for your horse, but let me elaborate on a couple key aspects of the differences between organic, natural and conventional.
Organics Under Attack Again - Support Needed
Recently, Congress passed a bill which overrides USDA regulations requiring all certified organic livestock to be fed 100% organic feed. A last-minute rider was added to section 771 of the Consolidated Budget Bill approved by Congress on February 13, 2003 allowing organic meat producers to feed their animals conventional feed and still label the meat as organic. (Remember, the term “organic” is supposed to mean ‘not processed, not packaged and not grown with any chemicals of any kind’.)
The rider states that no funds will be used to enforce the 100 percent organic feed requirement for certified organic livestock operations unless the Secretary of Agriculture confirms that organic feed is available at no more than twice the cost of conventional. This rider was instigated by Nathan Deal, R-Ga, and seven other Republican House members from Georgia, to give special treatment to Fieldale Farms - Georgia's Springer Mountain Farms ‘organic’ chicken. According to the Center for Responsible Politics, Nathan Deal has received campaign contributions from Fieldale for his last campaign.
This exemption is a complete contradiction to the National Organic Standards that the organic industry fought so hard for for years, and which they finally were able to implement in October 2002. To allow certain meat suppliers this loop hole is clearly an attempt by certain politicians to undermine organic standards and to grant special favors to ‘friends’ in the conventional ag industry.
The Organic Trade Association is asking for your help. Immediate support is needed to show Congress and other politicians who are going to follow in Neal's footsteps that the American people are not going to let multi-billion dollar companies decide what they eat. You can go to the Organic Trade Association’s website, www.ota.com, and send directly to the Senator in your state a quick and easy message to repeal this section of the Omnibus Appropriations Bill. It takes less than five minutes to make your voice heard. Other senators and representatives are actively working to rectify this situation. Please support them.
The OTA is also asking that you voice your support to your local health food stores telling them to boycott Fieldale and Springer Mountain Farms.
Editor’s update - Section 771 was repealed by Congress on April 12, 2003, reinstating the requirement that a farm, in order to be certified as an organic farm with respect to livestock produced on the farm, feed the livestock with organically produced feed. Thanks to everyone that helped with this effort. Visit www.ota.com for more information.
First and foremost, organic and natural are not the same. The natural consumer products industry has done a lot to confuse people on this issue and little to educate them about the difference. When a product is labeled as natural, it means that it has been packaged without any preservatives or dyes or artificial flavorings, and in some cases is not bleached; but it still has been processed using chemical processing agents, irradiation, or additives and was grown using conventional chemical agriculture (pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers.) In livestock feeds, natural means it may not contain artificial coloring or flavoring or preservatives, but, if it’s not labeled organic, the oats, soy meal, alfalfa, corn or any feed crop used in the product could have been sprayed with toxic chemical pesticides to control blister beetles, leafhoppers, corn earworms, aphids etc., and could contain GMOs (genetically modified organisms). In fact, soy and corn, two of the most readily used ingredients in livestock feeds today, are the two leading genetically modified foods, and are also among the most heavily sprayed crops. Soy meal is used in almost every processed horse treat and concentrated feed out there. Just read the labels. And what about that bag of sweet feed, cubes or pellets? Corn is also a proven allergen to companion animals; it causes itching, scratching and skin disorders in most cats, dogs and horses. Does your horse have patches of hair missing where he has scratched excessively or patches of dry skin with large flakes like severe dandruff? Mine did, when I found out one of the stable hands where I board him was giving him corn even though I had told the stable manager I did not want him getting any conventional grain. I immediately put a stop to it and when my horse stopped getting the corn, his patches of large scaly skin went away. His conjunctivitis (eye irritation) also cleared up when he stopped getting conventional corn. The studies are still out as to whether or not it is a result of the genetic modification, the pesticides, a compound of corn itself, or all of the above that causes the allergic reactions. I have been able to give the horse I mentioned organic corn, occasionally, without any adverse effects, but I feel it best not to push my luck or his. There are plenty of more nutritious grains for him to eat.
As of October 2002, the USDA regulations on labeling for organic products states that a product can only be labeled as “organic” if it contains 95-100% organic ingredients. If it contains fewer than 95% but more than 70% it can be labeled as “contains organic ingredients” on the front of the package, and if it contains less than 70% organic ingredients, it cannot make any claims on the front of the packaging that it is organic but can list the ingredients as such in the ingredients label. The term “organic” means ‘not processed, not packaged and not grown with any chemicals of any kind’. [See SIDE BAR for important update.] And “certified organic” means a crop has been grown on land that has not been contaminated with any chemicals for a minimum of three years. “Transitional” means a crop is going for its certified organic status but has not been chemical free for three years yet. “Conventional” means the sky is the limit; growers can use any of the toxic pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers, and gene-manipulating technology out there, and processing plants can use all the bleaching, fortifying, and preserving chemicals and techniques on the market today.
Now that you’ve gotten your crash course on what it means if a feed product is labeled natural or organic (and if it doesn’t say either, it’s conventional), let’s weigh the pros and cons.
If the expense of organic feeds and the lack of availability are the only reasons keeping you from offering an organic diet to your equine companions, think about this: the extra money you spend on the most nutritious and utilizable form of feed for your horse, the healthier your horse will be and the less money you will spend on vet bills, overly expensive medications and over-rated under-performing supplements. Organic food is the most nutritious food there is. It is grown on soils that are not depleted of vitamins and minerals by years and years of over-working. Sustainable agricultural practices (organic) replenish the soils with organic composts which revitalize the soil and offer a wide, balanced range of healthy organic nutrients to the plants grown on that soil, and ultimately to the beings that eat the plants. Chemical agriculture uses narrow-range chemical fertilizers, offering little more than single chemicals to the plants grown on that soil, with no regard for soil health, plant health, and consumer health. Any organic life form - you, me, your horse, dog, cat - can assimilate organic vitamins and minerals much better than we can utilize their artificial chemical counterparts. Your horse is not made up of Sodium Hexametaphosphate or TBHQ (always be wary of an ingredient that even the product labeler doesn’t want to spell out); he is made up of water, organic proteins, organic vitamins, and minerals which make organic cell structures etc. Research has proven over and over, in more studies than can be counted, that many of the chemicals in pesticides, herbicides, chemical fertilizers and preservatives are carcinogenic; is it any wonder that liver disease in horses is rising at an alarming rate every year? The liver’s sole purpose in the body is to act as a filter to rid the body of toxins and chemicals it cannot utilize. The more chemicals your horse ingests through inorganic supplements and feeds, the more the liver becomes over-loaded and can no longer do its job. Those toxins have to go somewhere, and if the liver cannot rid them from the body, they will be stored in cells and contaminate the blood and organs until they manifest in other diseases such as tumors, laminitis, intestinal disorders, skin diseases and parasites - which live in unhealthy animals - and the list goes on and on. I’m not saying organic feed is a cure-all for every horse disease, but it will make your horse healthier in the long run. Then if he is confronted with any virus, bad bacteria, other invaders, or toxins, or if he does come down with a disease or ailment, his immune system will be healthier and better able to handle it. He will be in better condition, due to the more nutritious feed, and may not need supplements. His attitude and behavior will be improved. I have seen extremely restless and high-strung horses calm down after only a couple months of being on an organic diet. Chemical overloads in the body tend to cause anxiety and chemical imbalances linked to behavior and attitude, as well as the many other health problems.
The benefits of organic feed and hay far outweigh the extra cost, and in some organic feed suppliers I have found, the extra cost is minimal. The extra money you would spend on organic feed for one horse for a year would not come anywhere close to a six month supply of ‘bute’ for one horse and all the radiographs, blood work and vet time spent to find out what is wrong with him. Also, since organic grains have a higher nutrient content, you do not have to feed as much of them as you do conventional grains in order to meet a horse’s daily requirements, so that also helps to make up the cost difference. I feed my horses half the recommended daily amount of grain and they still look and act healthier than they did on conventional grains.
The only down-side to organic feeds besides the fact that they cost more is their lack of availability in some areas, but that is all linked to the old business logic of supply and demand. If more people like us natural horsemen and women would pester our feed suppliers for organic grains and feeds, the demand would increase, product would become more available, and prices would drop as there became more competition among suppliers. So at the very least, I would suggest you mention to your feed supplier that you are looking for organic grains and feeds; you would be surprised just how many of them have never considered stocking organic feeds simply because the idea never entered their minds. And if you own a working ranch or farm, you could become a dealer as well. There are a couple companies listed on the web as organic grain manufacturers or suppliers that are looking for dealers. The information for organic grain suppliers is not difficult to find and can often be found locally if a feed retailer has a mind to look. (This is in fact how I found one large organic feed manufacturer; through a web search for organic livestock feeds. I contacted them and got additional information directly from the company.) If you give this information to your feed supplier, it will indicate to them that you are very interested in the product and are a serious buyer, and it will give them no excuse to not at least check into it. Then ask them the next time you see them if they have called the manufacturer yet. If you live in Pennsylvania, lucky you; there are lots of organic feed dealers there, and a few in Connecticut, New York, and New Hampshire. We just need to spread the word (and the demand) to the other fifty states, especially the western and southern areas. There are also a great many more organic feed manufacturers in Europe because they are light-years ahead of the United States in the organic industry. So come on, people, it’s not like the technology and availability isn’t there; it’s just not here. So speak up and create some demand, so we all can enjoy having a choice whether or not we want to feed our companions organically.
About the author:
Linda J. Creapeau, BFA, NH, is a Certified Nutritional Herbologist specializing in equines and a Natural Equine Trainer specializing in Freestyle Equitation and Equine Ballet. To contact L.J. for an equine herbal or nutritional consult, to order bulk dried herbs, or for Freestyle/ Ballet instruction please call 303-828-5130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.