Thursday, 15 November 2012

Animal welfare in organic production

Directives and settings for organic production in Europe are set by the EU. In addition, each country has their own national laws and decrees, which detail the EU laws. Organic production is a farm management practice, which combines
  • production of high-quality food
  • respect for animals and their behavioral needs
  • eco-friendliness
  • sustainability.
Animals are essential in organic production. Growing animal feed diversifies the crop rotation, animals recycle nutrients, promote natural diversity, produce foodstuffs, create income and  tend to the landscape.

Welfare of animals in organic production

A miniature horse treated for leg deformity
(c) University of Pennsylvania
IFOAM has stated that "All management must aim for good animal health and welfare and must be governed by the physiological and basic ethological needs of the animal in question". (Basic standards for organic production and processing, 2002). Preventive health care is the key: producers select the best suitable breeds, feed them with high-quality feed, enabling them with access to outdoors and avoiding too high an animal density. There are strict regulations to the use of medicide for animals, which guarantees that animals are medicated only when needed, not "just in case". However, sick animals are and must be treated accordingly. Veterinarians may prescipt preventive medication, such as deworming. Vaccinations, Phytotherapeutical and homepathic treatments are allowed. Still, any animal must be removed from organic production if they are medicated more than three times a year (if the animal lives longer than 12 months) or more than once (for animals which live less than 12 months).

Some common breeding practices are banned in organic production. Artifial insemination (AI) is allowed, even though it is recommended that all breeding is based on natural methods. Embryo transfer is not allowed, but semen from embryo-transferred bulls may be used in AI. If an animal is bought to an organic production farm, that animal may be embryo transferred.

Allowed and banned animal handling procedures
A capable person may mark a goat, sheep, pig or a cow with ear marks, ear notching, tattooing or with an ID chip. Lambs can be castrated. Piglet canines may be rasped only if they cause problems to the sow, and the problems cannot be solved in another manner. Veterinarians are allowed to castrate goats, horses and cows, but the usage of pain killers is mandatory. Same applies for burning or removal of horns from lambs, goats and calves, and installing a nose ring to a cow or bull.

Producers are not allowed to keep animals chained, although some exceptions apply. Chaining a birthing animal is not allowed under any circumstances. Sows must be kept in groups until the end of pregnancy and during lactation: sow crates are not allowed. Birthing crates are also banned.

Usage of hormones  or other medication to increase growth, fertility or production is strictly forbidden.

(c) Sneeuberg
The feeding of cattle, sheep, horses and goats must be based on grazing. 60 % of their daily feed must be roughage, but for the first three months of a cow's lactation period this percentage can be lowered to 50 %. Rearing of anemic animals (for example for production of white veal) is banned.

Feed should be produced on the same farm they are used. 50 % of the feed for herbivore animals must  be endemic. All feed must be organically produced, but in an emergency normal feeds can be used with a special permit.

Feeding of young animals must be mainly milk from their mother or a female of the same species, until the animals are at the age of
  • 3 months (cattle and horses)
  • 8 weeks (goats)
  • 45 days (lambs)
  • 40 days (pigs).
Milk powder or other liquid feed can be used only during the 2-year transition phase to organic production, and even then only within limits.

Requirements for animal shelters

Animal shelters for cattle, goats, pigs and sheep must have good, non-slippery flooring, and a maximum of 50 % of the floor may be grated. Resting area must be on solid floor and have litter. All shelters must have windows, which cover an area equivalent to 1/20 of the floor area.

Poultry must have at least 8 hours of darkness in their lighting program, and at least 1/3 of the flooring must be solid (not grated). Broiler chickens must be reared a minimum of 81 days and turkeys for 100 days (females) or 140 days (males). In normal production broilers are slaughtered at the age of ~50 days. Each section of the henhouse may have a maximum of 4800 broilers or 3000 egg-laying hens.
(c) mother Earth news
When national laws don't state otherwise, animals must be able to go out at any time. Harsh weather conditions or low-quality ground are an exception. Maximum of 75 % of the outdoor pen may be roofed.  During the grazing seasons, goats, sheep and cattle must be allowed to pasture daily. The outdoor pen for pigs must have litter to nose and root. Poultry must be able to spend at least 1/3 of their life outdoors in an outdoor pen with at least 50 % covered in undergrowth.

How well do organic animals fare?

Feeding of animals in organic production has many limitations, but it does not appear to affect to milk yield of cows. Cattle in organic farm does not seem to have less udder or hoof problems compared to traditional production.

Broiler chickens suffer slightly less in organic production, but using slow-growing broiler breeds in organic production has clearly improved animal welfare. In some studies hens show slightly more pecking and cannibalism in organic production, perhaps due to increased light and flock size (egg-laying hens in traditional production are often in cages with 2-7 other birds). In other studies the beaviour of hens was similar in organic and traditional farms.

For pigs the results of actual welfare in organic vs traditional production are mixed. Organic pigs seem to have more joint injuries and liver parasites, but less lung sac inflammations and lung infections. They have less tail damange than traditionally reared pigs, likely due to more stimuli and lower animal density.  All in all, organic farms seem to suffer from the same welfare problems than traditional farms.

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