The True Cost of Organic GMO-Free Pork

Not all parts of a carcass are created equal. When half of the carcass weight goes to waste because it isn’t a coveted cut of meat, a farmer must inflate costs to cover losses.

| August 2016

  • Not all parts of a carcass are created equal. When half of the carcass weight goes to waste because it isn’t a coveted cut of meat, a farmer must inflate cost to cover losses.
    Meredith Leigh
  • In "The Ethical Meat Handbook," author Meredith Leigh uses her background as a food and farming specialist who has worked as a butcher, chef, teacher, and homesteader, all in search of realistic solutions for sustainable food.
    Cover courtesy Meredith Leigh

The Ethical Meat Handbook (New Society Publishers, 2015), by Meredith Leigh, seeks a middle ground, arguing that by assuming full responsibility for the food on our fork, and more importantly, the route by which it gets there, animals can be an optimal source of food, fiber, and environmental management.

You can purchase this book from the MOTHER EARTH NEWS store: Ethical Meat Handbook.

This simple table compares total costs associated with raising a pig based on feed type. In the second column, you see costs associated with conventionally grown GMO feed. In the third column, you see costs of conventionally grown, GMO-free feed (while the seed is not genetically modified, the crop is grown with synthetic chemical herbicides and pesticides, and is not required to be managed according to organic standards). The fourth column lists costs associated with certified organic feed, which by law does not contain genetically modified seed and is grown with adherence to standards for environmental and consumer health.

cost of pork 

These numbers are based on the enterprise budget of a pork and poultry farm near my home in Asheville, NC. My friends Graham and Wendy Brugh, of Dry Ridge Farm, raise about 150 hogs a year, plus about 1,500 chickens. They also sell lamb. These numbers allow them to sell weekly retail at farmers’ markets and support some wholesale accounts with local butcher shops and grocers. Note that the price per pound of feed is based on the price their farm gets, since they buy their feed by the ton. For those raising pork on the home scale and thus buying feed by the bag, prices per pound will be slightly higher.

In the Notes column, on the first row, you’ll notice a mention of feed conversion ratio. This is an important number in livestock production that refers to the amount of feed, in pounds, that the animal requires to gain one pound of meat. The ideal feed conversion ratio for pork is 3.5:1, meaning it will take you 3.5 pounds of feed to produce 1 pound of meat. Note that this ratio can vary greatly, depending on breed, feed quality and herd health. Using ideal ratios in this example, it will take the farmer about 962.5 pounds of feed to take one animal to a finished weight of 275 pounds.


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