Misconception Number 27: Today, conventional farm animals grow well and provide high milk yields. Industrial farm poultry produce a large numbers of eggs. Therefore, theses animals cannot really be suffering.
Summary of Counter-Arguments:
Details of Counter-Arguments:
In the discussion about organic and conventional agriculture, supporters of the conventional system sometimes state that animals cannot be suffering if they grow well and provide high milk yields or produce a large number of eggs. However, even though these animals seem healthy, they are on the verge of disease. There are plenty of reports that show that the health of intensively-bred animals is not the norm, but rather that these animals live permanently in unhealthy conditions and under medical treatment. The conventional production system is highly dependent on veterinary drugs. For example, Intervet, one of the three biggest veterinary pharmaceutical companies in the world, offers routine programs with dozens of antibiotic treatments covering the whole lifespan of a dairy cow in order to ensure udder health. Denmark hosts one of the most intensive pig breeding facilities, with 8,500 conventional pig breeders producing 25 million pigs every year. Although the sows are very productive, there is plenty of evidence that the increasing industrialization of production damages the health of the sows and their piglets. The mortality among Danish pigs has more than doubled since 1982 to 4.5 percent in 2005, and the use of antibiotics has increased by 19 percent between 2003 and 2005. Approximately 35 percent of the pigs get critical comments when veterinarians examine them at the slaughterhouse mainly because of signs of suffering in the respiratory passages, a result of lack of fresh air in the stables . According to a study by the University of Bonn, the performance of dairy cows increased by 30 percent between 1960 and the mid-nineties. At the same time, udder illnesses increased by 600 percent and claw and limb disorders surged by 300 percent .
Given the conditions of population density and confinement in industrial production facilities, it is not surprising that they are suffering from a range of health problems. The animal feed provided to them is also affecting their health at the same time that it boosts production. In conventional farming, animals are mainly fed with concentrates, instead of roughage, to reduce costs and boost production. The Danish Society for Protection of Animals (2004) reports that around half of Danish sows suffer from stomach ulcers due to stress and the unnatural structure of their fodder. Cows suffer dislocation of the fourth stomach due to consumption of concentrated feeds. On the contrary, in Organic Agriculture animals should be provided with a balanced diet to permit them to exhibit their natural feeding and digestive behavior.
Saying that animals are healthy because they are highly productive is inaccurate. It is as if you were saying that the fattest or tallest kid in school is the healthiest. The health of an organism is not measured by the productivity of whichever part of the body or reproduction system is useful to human consumption.
In Organic Agriculture, we consider health to be not simply the absence of illness, but the maintenance of physical, mental, social, and ecological well-being. Even when animals have no disease, they can feel mental and physical suffering when they are not allowed to express their natural behaviours, as is too often the case in conventional agriculture. One example is the condition of sows in industrial pig production. The notion of sows as breeding machines on four legs is underlined by the way the majority of pig sheds are set up. Currently, most conventionally raised sows stand in long rows of stalls, separated from each other by metal bars. The stalls are so small that the sows can only walk one or two steps forwards or backwards. They are not even able to turn around, and have no opportunities (in contrast to the sows in Organic Agriculture) to behave naturally. For example, they cannot walk around, build a nest for her piglets, root, or examine their surroundings. It is obvious that such conditions result in physical and mental suffering. Another example is the hormonal control of reproduction used for cattle, sheep, and pigs in conventional agriculture. It is done to synchronize birthing times and, thus, simplify management. However, long-term damages (such as the state of exhaustion resulting from the lack of recovery time for sows) are not considered when applying such practices, which can be assimilated to “torture-breeding,” where yield, and not health status, is the predominant goal.
Finally, high productivity does not prevent animals from undergoing massive temporary suffering due (for example) to routine mutilations and inhumane conditions during transportation and slaughter. For example, it is routine practice in conventional pig husbandry to clip off the end of the pigs’ tails and to either clip off or file off their teeth. This is done because otherwise pigs would bite one another’s tails because of the small space in which they are raised and the lack of possibilities for other activities in the stable. Transportation is known to cause massive stress, dehydration, and physical injury to animals before they get slaughtered. Organic standards require that animal stress during transport be minimized through a range of stress-reducing measures.
In conclusion, the high productivity of animals in conventional agriculture is not at all a sign of health and well-being. Highly productive animals indeed suffer a range of health problems associated with their unsound living conditions and over-solicited metabolism. They also suffer physically and mentally throughout their lives and particularly during certain stages, such as during mutilations, transport, and slaughter. All organic agriculture standards contain a substantial part on animal welfare and ensure that animals do not suffer and can express the natural behaviors necessary to their well-being.
 H. Sommer: Intensive Tierproduktion ist unverantwortlich. In: Ökologie & Landbau 24 Jg. (1996), Nr. 4, p.48.
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