The Organic and Free Range Myth

The terms ‘organic’ and ‘free-range’ suggests that the meat, dairy or
eggs you are buying are humane, ethical and cruelty-free. But for the
most part, this is not the case. First of all, just because some eggs
are labelled as ‘organic’, this does not mean that the hens were
‘free-range’ – their movement could still be restricted by living
in overcrowded conditions, without the opportunity to see much, if
any, sunlight. Organic meat, dairy or eggs means that the animal was
fed organic feed and were not allowed to be fed GM crops or
antibiotics.


The
upside of not feeding them antibiotics means that traces of it won’t
be left in the final product. The danger of giving antibiotics to
livestock is that it can promote the growth of drug resistant
bacteria, and if this bacteria finds its way in our food then it can
infect us. So that’s the upside of organic animal products. The
downside is that if the animals are living in crowded conditions, but
are not being fed antibiotics to protect them from disease, then
disease can easily spread. Since the health of the animals is not
prioritised, the meat, milk or eggs will be contaminated with the
disease and humans will later be ingesting it.


Beef
labelled as ‘organic’ does not mean that the cow led a healthy life.
The regulations in the UK only require that the cow was given organic
feed. However, this does not prevent farmers from overfeeding the
cows in order to increase how much beef can be got from a single cow.
Overfeeding cows makes them so fat that they cannot move, meaning
that they have to live in their own feces. Having thousands of cows
in a crowded area living in their excrement is the perfect
environment for viruses such as E. coli
to spread. In the US there have been some serious cases of the virus
infecting humans through the consumption of beef. In most cases it
causes food poisoning, but some cases of death did make the
headlines, causing all the beef from one producer to be recalled.


Also,
free range does not necessarily mean organic. Just because the hens
are not in battery cages and might have a bit of extra room, this
does not mean that they are being fed a natural diet, free of
chemicals and growth hormones. Free range isn’t as ‘compassionate’ as
many egg producers claim it is, using misleading labels and slogans
such as “happy eggs”. In the UK free range eggs can mean the hens
are given a nest area, some space to perch and maybe an opportunity
to see some sunlight. But the
idea that free range chickens spend all day outside, where they can
behave naturally, is wishful thinking.


The
irony is that as the increase for free range eggs has gone up (44% of
all eggs purchased in the UK are free range) the concerns for welfare
have gone down. The resulting conditions are only marginally better
than factory farms. An undercover investigation into a Nobel Foods
farm in Scotland, which is supposed to produce free range eggs, found
that electric wires are used to control the young chicks. At least
one barn was infested with ‘red mite’ (a parasite) and many hens were
missing feathers due to fights. But still, at least this is slightly
better than factory farming, where the animals are known to kill and
eat each other due to the high levels of stress and frustration that
come with being contained in a space where the hens cannot even
stretch their wings.


The
important point is that ‘farms’, if they can be called farms, that
produce free range and organic animal products are still
profit-driven organisations. Since free range and organic products
are in high demand, the welfare of the animals simply cannot be met –
the need for profit will always triumph. Free range and organics
chickens, pigs and cows will still find themselves being crammed by
the thousands into sheds. Middle class people who buy these products
thinking that the animals were well treated are mistaken. Although in
some cases their lives are probably less
miserable than their counterparts in factory farms, their lives are
still miserable in a number of ways.


Free
range hens and battery cage hens are treated in many of the same
cruel ways. Both are ‘debeaked’ (they have their beaks cut off) with
a hoy bloody blade with no anaesthetic. This is to prevent the hens
from pecking at each other – so clearly farmers on these ‘happy’
farms know that the hens will be stressed to the point where they
will attack each other. Both kinds of hens are transported in packed
trucks, without food, water or rest. There are no regulations which
say that free range hens must have their own space in a truck. When
breeding for egg-laying hens, obviously about half of the chicks
produced are going to be male – but males cannot lay eggs. For this
reason they are of no use to the egg-producing facility and they must
be killed. This is the same for free range and factory farmed eggs.
Millions of male chicks are gassed each year as a result of the egg
industry – in the past they would have been turned into poultry,
but now the meat industry requires that a specific genetic strain of
chicken be used.


Cows
on organic dairy farms can still be kept in filthy enclosures, where
they still have to endure the strain of yearly pregnancies (which is
not natural for them) and still have their calves taken away from
them at birth. If it’s a male calf, it may very well spend its entire
life on a beef-producing factory farm. Once again, it is clear that
the egg and dairy industries in the UK are also linked to the death
of these animals in the meat industry. It’s also important to
remember that once dairy cows can no longer produce milk, they too
will be killed for meat. Once the dairy cows make it to the
slaughterhouse, they will be hung upside down and have their throats
cut, often while still conscious and trying to escape. Some ‘happy’
organic, free range hens will still be conscious while they are
de-feathered in scalding hot water.


The
udders of organic cows can also become infected from being milked too
often. However, since they are organic they must be denied medicine –
if they were given medicine then the farmers couldn’t label their
milk as ‘organic’. Cattle on organic beef farms still have their
horns and testicles cut off without anaesthetic and many are branded
with sizzling-hot irons. The same applies to grass fed beef which
many people think means that the cattle led a comfortable life –
they didn’t. Pigs on organic farms in the UK have their tails chopped
off (without anaesthetic) and have rings forced into their noses to
prevent them from rooting in the grass and mud. Both of these
procedures mean that the pigs can no longer behave in a natural way.
In light of these facts, the only truly humane option when it comes
to animal products seems to involve avoiding them altogether.

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1 Comment

  1. Anonymous
    January 8, 2014 / 2:17 pm

    The article barely mentions the effects on nutrition, the main driver of animal welfare, as much as my heart aches for a poor deprived chicken. If you're going to kill and eat an animal, then it's a commodity as far as most people are concerned.

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