Misconception Number 25: So-called natural living conditions include non-hygienic stables and mud, which are sources of disease and bacteria, exposure to which results in animal suffering.
Summary of Counter-Arguments:
Details of Counter-Arguments:
As the IFOAM Basic Standards state for animal husbandry, the organic farmer should practice methods of animal management that reduce stress, promote animal health and welfare, prevent disease and parasitism, and avoid the use of chemical allopathic veterinary drugs. Those who are not familiar with organic husbandry sometimes state that, because the circumstances for organic animals are as natural as possible, the stables or barns may be non-hygienic and the outdoor areas are a source for bacteria-infections. However, the hygienic standards of stables on organic farms are at least at the same level as on conventional farms. One cannot find any organic farmer or consultant who will claim that dirt and bad hygiene is expressing good organic practices. On the contrary, organic farmers are more motivated to keep a good standard of hygiene to prevent diseases, as bad hygiene simply cannot be compensated for by routine medical treatments, as it can be in conventional farming.
Nor does the access to outdoor areas mean a higher risk for contagion with dangerous types of bacteria. Of course, just as with animals from conventional farms, it is possible for organic animals to get infected by harmful bacteria. However, the confinement and overpopulation of industrial animal husbandry settings in conventional agriculture poses its own, much more serious, problems. The possibility of expressing natural behavior has many positive effects on the animals’ health. For example, for chickens, taking a sand bath is not just a ritual; it is a method for getting rid of parasites. Furthermore, natural circumstances with appropriate livestock management help reduce stress. Stress reduces immune function and, hence, enhances disease susceptibility. Exercise and access to sunlight decreases the risk of skeletal disease and fertility problems . Also, rotating the pastures on which animals graze will allow young animals to develop a natural immunity because they will be gradually exposed to micro-organisms, both harmless ones and pathogens, which promotes their immunity and future health.
Moreover, when given access to a natural environment, animals are capable of ‘self-medicating’ many of their diseases by consuming substances not normally considered nutrient. They modulate their health by consuming certain plants, insects, and even earth for such compounds. For example, sheep infested with nematode parasites in New Zealand were found to select the bitter and astringent Puna Chicory and thereby reduced their parasite load. Free ranging cattle in Venezuela help themselves to clay sub-soils. Clay helps balance stomach acidity and curb diarrhea .
In conclusion, the greater possibility for organic animals to express their natural behaviors, in particular through a greater access to open-air environments, results in healthier animals with stronger immune systems. Organic Agriculture standards ensure that animals do not suffer and remain in good health, while being able to express their natural behaviors.
 Soil Association, 2002
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