Misconception Number 28: Organic animal husbandry standards are not harmonized worldwide, so it would be best if OA did not try to define anything. For instance, how can OA standards allow cows to be shackled inside stables (as is the case in Switzerland)?
Summary of Counter-Arguments:
|- There are indeed variations in organic animal husbandry standards worldwide, to account for different local agro-ecological, cultural, social, economic, and technical conditions, but all standards are based on the universal principles of Organic Agriculture.|
- Organic Agriculture is indisputably better able to guarantee high animal welfare than conventional agriculture.
Details of Counter-Arguments:
As is the case for other elements of Organic Agriculture, there are indeed differences between country regulations and the various private standards when it comes to animal husbandry standards. Nevertheless, all the standards have much in common and are based on the principles of Organic Agriculture, which are universal. Differences in standards reflect differences in local conditions such as climate and culture, as well as the processes of development of the standards themselves. Realities and expectations about the degree of animal welfare vary from one country to the other, as do the incidence and impact of diseases affecting farm animals. According to the IFOAM Basic Standards, all animals shall have access to pasture or an open-air exercise area or run, whenever the physiological condition of the animal, the weather, and the state of the ground permit. Taking into account both animal welfare and ecosystem pasture management, animals may be temporarily confined because of inclement weather or absence of pasture due to temporary or seasonal conditions. They also may be fed with carried fresh fodder where this is a more sustainable way to use land resources than grazing.
Religion and cultural aspects have also to be taken into account. For example, during slaughter each animal should be stunned before being bled to death. However, in countries where this process assumes a religious and/or traditional meaning, organic standards might allow exceptions for cultural reasons.
Another example of variability in animal husbandry standards is the maximum percentage of non-organic feed that is allowed under organic production. In regions of the world where the organic sector is well developed, it makes sense for organic standards to require 100 percent organic feed for organic livestock. However, in regions where appropriate organic feed is not available and where Organic Agriculture is in early stages of development, standards that require 100 percent organic feed would hamper development of the organic sector in these regions.
In conclusion, it is not because there is a certain level of variability in animal welfare standards that these standards are worthless. No organic standard can pretend to be the best universal framework for animal welfare, nor is it easy to assess animal welfare outcomes in a truly measurable way, but there is clearly a big difference between living conditions of organically-managed animals and animals in conventional industrial settings and animal welfare standards make Organic Agriculture indisputably distinguishable in this regard.