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Does organic matter? September 3, 2009

Posted by Angelique in Animal welfare.
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Organic food might be better for your health (studies are trying to work that out) because it more or less prohibits pesticides from entering your food. But does it make a difference to the way animals are treated? Do animals used to make organic meat, milk, or eggs lead decent lives?

Here are the relevant conditions producers must provide to ensure animals’ health and welfare, from a summary of the USDA’s organic standards for livestock:

  • Conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement and reduction of stress appropriate to the species
  • Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate and the environment
  • Access to pasture for ruminants
  • Appropriate clean, dry bedding
  • Shelter designed to allow for natural maintenance, comfort behaviors and opportunity to exercise; temperature level, ventilation and air circulation suitable to the species; and reduction of potential for livestock injury
  • The producer of an organic livestock operation may provide temporary confinement for an animal because of: (1) inclement weather; (2) the animal’s stage of production

Which all sounds just peachy except for those modifiers “appropriate” and “suitable,” no doubt selected for their convenient indeterminacy. The USDA lets the producer decide what’s appropriate. Vague requirements like “access to” the outdoors and pasture mean that organic producers can (and do) raise chickens whose access to pasture consists of a shed door through which they never pass, and breeder pigs and dairy cows which are confined for most of their lives because their “stage of production” covers most of their lives. The National Organic Coalition itself has protested that the USDA standards are toothless. That pretty much says it.

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Comments»

1. Guillaume - September 3, 2009

I couldn’t agree more! Organic is such an over-used and misleading buzzword these days, used by various producers and retailers as well as ignorant animal/environment-lovers to market a bunch of claims that have nothing to do with reality. The only thing you can be sure of when you see organic is that it’s pesticides-free. It’s not better for animals and it’s also very doubtful whether it’s better for the environment from a total energy input perspective, as pesticide-free often means more land, more water, more feed to generate the same amount of output. So next time you buy organic, think about why you are doing it and whether organic really does what you want it to do!


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