What’s Your Beef?

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How well do you know your beef?

As concerns over mad cow disease grow, more people are turning to certified organic beef. Take our quiz to find out why.

1. How do cows contract mad cow disease (bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or BSE)?

a) through the use of animal byproducts in feed
b) through vaccination
c) through respiratory infections

2. Certified organic meat carries this guarantee:

a) the animal’s diet was all organic and free of slaughterhouse byproducts, urea, and manure
b) antibiotic use was prohibited
c) hormones for growth promotion were not used
d) the animal had access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight suitable to its species
e) all of the above

3. True or false? The feed given to organic livestock and poultry is always vegetarian.

4. Which two labels indicate beef with a lower risk of having come from a cow sick with BSE?

a) “grass fed”
b) “grain fed”
c) “100 percent grass fed”
d) “grain fed only”

5. Which label can be relied on to reduce risk of BSE exposure?

a) “free range”
b) “irradiated”
c) “natural”
d) “no hormones”
e) none of the above


1. a) Animal byproducts. Cattle given cheap feed laced with beef tallow, dried blood, and other slaughterhouse byproducts could develop mad cow disease. A similar malady, Creutzfeld-Jakob disease, can strike humans who consume beef from cows sick with BSE. Fortunately, meat carrying a USDA-certified organic label is very low risk in terms of mad cow disease. (Federal Occupational Health)

2. e) All of the above. Each of these claims is third-party verified and certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

3. False. Organic livestock feed may contain fish products. However, certified organic beef or poultry cannot be fed anything containing mammalian or poultry slaughter byproducts. (USDA National Organic Standards)

4. c) and d) Without additional specification such as “only” or “100 percent,” the grass or grain labels could mean the cow ate grass for part of–but not its entire–life, so there’s no guarantee it never ate animal byproducts. Also, unlike the organic label, “grass fed” claims aren’t always verified by an independent organization. (Consumers Union)

5. e) None of the above. Although these claims (except irradiation) are laudable, they contain loopholes. Neither “free range” nor “natural” restricts cows from eating contaminated feed. Irradiation is used to destroy bacterial contamination caused by filthy meat and slaughterhouses. Other labels that have no bearing on BSE are “no additives,” “no antibiotics,” “pasteurized,” and “kosher.” (Consumers Union)

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