Animal welfare

Animal welfare


  • Intensively raised animals are often regarded as commodities, with their well-being only considered important insofar as it impacts productivity and profit.
  • Animal welfare concerns are central to every decision made on an organic farm.
  • Organic standards require that animals have access to the outdoors and pasture, quality organic feed and safe, clean living conditions.
  • Unlike intensive animal farming, which involves the routine administration of growth promoting antibiotics, organic farming precludes the routine use of antibiotics.

Intensively raised animals are often regarded as commodities, with their well-being only considered important insofar as it impacts productivity and profit. But for organic farmers, animal welfare concerns are central to every decision made.

How do organic farmers’ treat their animals?

  • Organic farmers are legally required to provide their animals with access to the outdoors and pasture, quality organic feed and safe, clean living conditions. They are also required to raise animals without the use of antibiotics or growth promotion hormones.
  • There are two important sections of the National Organic Program dealing with how organic farm animals must be treated.

§ 205.238 Livestock health care practice standard

  • Organic farmers’ must:
    • Select species and types of livestock with regard to suitability for site-specific conditions;
    • Provide appropriate feed, housing, pasture conditions, and sanitation practices;
    • Provide conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species;
    • Perform physical alterations as needed to promote the animal’s welfare and in a manner that minimizes pain and stress. [1]
  • Organic farmers’ must not:
    • Administer any animal drug, other than vaccinations, in the absence of illness;
    • Administer hormones for growth promotion;
    • Administer synthetic parasiticides on a routine basis;
    • Withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status. [1]

§ 205.239 Livestock living conditions

  • Organic farmers’ must establish and maintain year-round livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including:
    • Year-round access for all animals to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking, and direct sunlight, suitable to the species, its stage of life, the climate, and the environment.
    • Daily grazing;
    • Appropriate clean, dry bedding. [1]

What are the realities of intensive animal farming?

  • Animals kept in intensive farming systems routinely endure harsh conditions. Restrictions in their movement, space allowance and social contact causes suffering and stress.
  • Such harsh conditions prevent animals’ exhibiting natural patterns of behaviour and increase the likelihood of them suffering from disease, physical injury and deformity.

Intensive chicken production

  • Intensive chicken production units house thousands of broiler chickens (chickens reared for meat). They are kept in darkened sheds with a stocking density of up to 20 per square metre.
  • They are bred to grow as fast as possible and killed when they are 6-7 weeks old. It is estimated that around 5% die before reaching slaughter weight with the main causes being:
  • Crippling
  • Meat chickens are selected for their very high growth rate, which, combined with the lack of exercise, results in leg bones unable to support the bird’s weight.
  • This results in bent or twisted legs and toes, slipped tendons, deformed vertebrae and arthritis, all of which inflict extreme pain.
  • Disease
  • As with all intensive animal housing, the housing of chickens in a crowded and contaminated environment greatly increases the potential for the spread of infectious diseases, such as salmonellosis and various respiratory diseases.
  • Antibiotics are routinely administered to limit the spread of disease.

The organic approach:

  • Organic chickens must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh air, and direct sunlight. The additional exercise organic birds receive helps to prevent the birds from becoming crippled.
  • Organic hens are not permitted to be routinely administered antibiotics or growth hormones. If necessary, diseased birds are separated and treated humanely with antibiotics. These birds are no longer able to be sold as “organic”.

Intensive egg production

  • In the intensive egg production system (battery system), hens are kept in small wire cages, 4 or 5 birds to a cage. Battery cages are stacked tier upon tier on long rows, in large sheds which can hold up to 250,000 birds. To limit the spread of disease, antibiotics are routinely administered.
  • Battery cages fail to provide for the physical and behavioural well-being of hens. The hens suffer poor bone development from lack of exercise, pecking from other hens, overcrowding, as well as foot, feather and skin damage caused by abrasion from the wire floor and walls.
  • They are also denied natural behaviors such as nesting, dust bathing and foraging, and are subjected to unnaturally long light cycles in order to increase their laying rates.
  • These conditions lead to frustration, aggressiveness, and cannibalism. To prevent cannibalism, hens are debeaked by having up to half of the upper beak and one third of the lower beak cut off. Such a cut through nerves causes immediate, and often permanent, pain in the beak stump.
  • Up to 55% of hens sustain at least one broken bone by the time they reach the stage of pre-slaughter stunning. Brittle and weak bones result from osteoporosis and inadequate exercise in battery cages increase the incidence of bone breakage and suffering caused by callous handling.

The organic approach:

  • Organic hens must have access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, fresh air, and direct sunlight.
  • Organic hens are not permitted to be routinely administered antibiotics or growth hormones.
  • Stress and pain must be minimized when conducting physical alterations to promote animals’ welfare.

Intensive Pig Farming

  • Intensive piggeries fail to provide for the physical and behavioural well-being of pigs. Intensively housed pigs suffer from stress, increased susceptibility to disease, leg deformities and behavioural deprivation.
  • Female pigs for breeding are denied access to nesting material and are kept in single crates with insufficient room to move or turn around. When piglets are born, the design of the crate denies the sows appropriate and full physical contact with their mother. Piglets have their teeth clipped, ears notched and tails docked, all without anaesthetic.
  • Given the widespread suffering inherent in intensive pig farming, there is an urgent need to develop and implement more humane housing systems such as outdoor straw yards which include rooting areas, kennels, and enough space to meet the pigs’ behavioural requirements.

The organic approach:

  • Organic farmers’ provide their pigs with access to the outdoors, quality organic feed and safe, clean living conditions. This ensures that organically-reared pigs have healthy muscle development and well-formed limbs.
  • Any surgical procedures carried out must be carried out using anaesthetic and performed for veterinary purposes.

Intensive dairy farming

  • The natural lifespan of a cow is up to 20 years, yet few cows live beyond the age of seven years, and many younger animals go to slaughter.
  • Selective breeding, and more recently genetic manipulation, has resulted in the selection and production of cows which produce enormous amounts of milk. The modern dairy cow can produce about 35-50 litres of milk per day – about ten times more milk than her calf would need.
  • Producing large quantities of milk puts a significant metabolic strain on the animal. The great weight of the udders often causes painful stretching or tearing of ligaments and frequently causes foot problems, such as laminitis. These foot problems can be associated with significant pain.
  • Dairy cattle are susceptible to infections of the teat and udder (mastitis). Mastitis can be very painful and is routinely treated with antibiotics. Cepharin is the antibiotic most commonly used for clinical mastitis.
  • Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine have found that anitibiotic use in animals can affect the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans. [2]

The organic approach:

  • No growth hormones, antibiotics, or GMOs are used on organic dairy farms. Without the routine application of synthetic growth hormones and the sub-clinical use of antibiotics, organic dairy cows don’t suffer from the same ailments that intensively raised dairy cows do.
  • Organic dairy farms treat mastitis using a variety of means ranging from frequent milk-out to homeopathy to utilization of organic medications such as garlic and bovine whey blends.

The docking of cows’ tails

  • In many ‘dairy’ regions, the ‘docking’ (surgical amputation or using elastic rings) of a cows tail is quite common – sometimes only a small part of the tail is left intact.
  • It is done because dairy farmers don’t like to be swished in the face with a dirty tail whilst in the milking shed, and a mistaken belief that dirty tails contribute to higher bacterial contamination and perhaps higher levels of mastitis.
  • Without a tail the cows are inevitably irritated by flies that they are unable to dislodge. The amputation causes immediate pain and the nerve damage to the stump may result in chronic pain.

The organic approach:

  • Tail docking of cattle is prohibited except when necessary for veterinary treatment of injured animals.


[1] National Organic Program Standards (Source: Note: Summarized for inclusion above)
[2] Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, April 23, 2002.

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