Designing feeding programs for natural and organic pork production

Quick facts

  • The National Organic Program (NOP) provides guidelines for your ingredients, production protocols and other practices to qualify for organic certification.
  • Keep records of your livestock and feeding operations to prove your animals have been raised according to certified practices.
  • There are many different diets you can use in natural or organic pork production.
  • You can use pasture forage in complete feeds and silage for pork production.

What does it mean to raise organic pork?


The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) defines “natural” as a product that

  • Does not contain artificial ingredients.
  • Has no added color.
  • Is minimally processed: processing does not fundamentally alter the product.

“Natural” applies only to the processing stage of meat production and marketing. The label must state the meaning of “natural” such as “no artificial ingredients” or “minimally processed.”

The National Organic Program (NOP) provides guidelines for ingredients, production protocols and other practices to qualify for organic certification. The United States National Organic Standards are outlined in Part 205 of Title 7 of the Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR part 205).

Organic pork comes from pigs raised on a certified organic farm that follows organic management requirements. These requirements address many parts of pig production including the use of feed ingredients.

The NOP lists ingredients for livestock feed products that must be organically produced. This includes any pasture used for feed, forage or housing swine. You must manage existing pastures using organic practices for three years before it can qualify as certified organic.

Becoming an organic producer

If you wish to produce certified organic pork, you must complete the organic certification process. You can find information, including a list of certifiers, on the NOP’s website.

The certifying agency makes sure your production practices follow the National Organic Standards. This agency does not certify the purity of organic products. They certify the production process.

Five steps of the organic certification process

  1. Complete an application and develop an Organic System Plan (OSP).
  2. Implement the OSP and have the certifier review it.
  3. Allow the certifying inspector to complete an onsite inspection of your farm. They will evaluate the OSP in effect and your compliance with USDA’s organic regulations.
  4. The certifying agent will review the inspection report.
  5. The certifying agent decides whether to grant certification to your farm.

An organic certified farm must submit an updated OSP and fees to its certifying agent at least once per year and have an inspection by a certifying agent to maintain its organic certification. A certifying agent must approve any changes you make, such as adding new animal species, fields or facilities.

Documentation and records needed

The National Organic Standards requires organic producers to keep records of their operations. You can have written, visual (e.g. photos) or electronic records. The certifying agency will review these records during certification. You must keep the records for at least five years. This will provide as an audit for tracing:

  • Sources of animals.
  • Sources of feed.
  • The amount of feed fed.
  • Forage.
  • Feed supplements.
  • Treatments.
  • Medications.
  • Animal health.


Thorough records ensure the following:

  • No co-mingling of non-organic livestock or feed ingredients occurs.
  • Allowable medications are identified.
  • Sick animals receive proper medical care regardless of certification status.

These records also give the farmer a paper trail to prove that his or her animals have been raised according to certified practices.

When does it start?

Pigs must be born organic. This means they must come from a sow raised organically starting no later than the last third of gestation. Documentation must begin at the last third of gestation or when you purchase the animal.

A sow may never be organic but her piglets can be. For people who use natural service, the boars do not have to be organic.

What should it include?

  • Date of birth
  • Date purchased
  • Date sold and the buyer’s name
  • Death date
  • Breeding date
  • Farrowing date
  • Weaning date
  • Date of slaughter and processor’s and buyer’s names
  • All medical care (vaccinations, veterinary care, etc.)
    • Disease diagnosis
    • Treatment date
    • Medication and dosage used
    • Time of withdrawal period
    • Copies of medication labels

Feeding programs

To document feeding programs, you must list

  • Diet formulations.
  • Feed ingredient sources with organic certificates.
  • Dates of purchases.
  • Copies of ingredient labels.
  • Locations of feed storage.
  • Crop production certification if you produce on-farm ingredients.
Synthetic substances

Certified organic crops serve as the base feedstuffs for organic livestock nutrition, but some synthetic substances are allowed. Consult the National Organic Standards and your certifying agency for specifics on allowances during the period of conversion to organic status.

Feeds can include synthetic and nonsynthetic substances as described:

  • You cannot use synthetic substances unless specifically allowed by NOP. Consult the complete list. Allowed examples: vaccines, iodine, electrolytes.
  • Natural substances are allowed unless specifically prohibited by NOP. Consult the complete list. Prohibited example: strychnine.

Third party certification

A third party must certify that you follow NOP regulations if you want to sell as “certified organic pork” and carry the USDA Organic seal. While only NOP standards are enforced, how certifying agencies interpret them may differ.

Be familiar with the national standards and connect with their certifying agency to avoid practices that may disqualify your products from organic certification. You can review the third party certification process at the USDA-NOP website.


Antibiotic and drug use is not allowed in animals for organic markets, but you still must maintain animal welfare when an animal is sick or injured. In fact, the National Organic Standards requires you to give vaccines as needed to protect the well-being of animals in your care.

If care practices and vaccines cannot prevent sickness, you may give medicine included on the National List of Synthetic Substances for use in organic production. You cannot withhold medical treatment from a sick animal to maintain organic status.

When organic status fails, use all appropriate medications and treatment to restore the animal’s health. Make sure to identify all livestock you treat with prohibited materials and do not sell, label or represent them as organic.