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Does organic farming face distinctive livestock welfare issues? - a conceptual analysis

By H. F. Alroe, M. Vaarst, E. S. Kristensen

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The recent development and growth of organic livestock farming and the related development of national and international regulations has fuelled discussions among scientists and philosophers concerning the proper conceptualization of animal welfare. These discussions on livestock welfare in organic farming draw on the conventional discussions and disputes on animal welfare that involve issues such as different definitions of welfare (clinical health, absence of suffering, sum of positive and negative experiences, etc.), the possibility for objective measures of animal welfare, and the acceptable level of welfare. It seems clear that livestock welfare is a value-laden concept and that animal welfare science cannot be made independent of questions of values and ethics. The question investigated here is whether those values that underpin organic farming, in particular, also affect the interpretation of livestock welfare, and, if so, how. While some of the issues raised in connection with organic farming are relatively uncontroversial, others are not. The introduction of organic farming values seems to introduce new criteria for what counts as good animal welfare, as well as a different ethical basis for making moral decisions on welfare. Organic farming embodies distinctive systemic or communitarian ethical ideas and the organic values are connected to a systemic conception of nature, of agriculture, of the farm, and of the animal. The new criteria of welfare are related to concepts such as naturalness, harmony, integrity, and care. While the organic values overlap with those involved in the conventional discussion of animal welfare, some of them suggest a need to set new priorities and to re-conceptualize animal welfare, e.g., with respect to "naturalness," in relation to the possibilities for expression of natural behaviour and in relation to animal integrity as a concept for organismic harmony. The organic perspective also seems to suggest a wider range of solutions to welfare problems than changes in farm routines or operations on the animals. The systemic solutions include the choice and reproduction of suitable breeds, changes in the farm structure, and changes in the larger production and consumption system, including consumer perceptions and preferences. But the organic values may also call for sacrifices of individual welfare in a conventional sense in order to advance welfare from the perspective of organic farming. Whether this is good or bad cannot be decided without entering into an inquiry and discussion of the values and ethics involved.

Date 2001
Publication Title Journal of Agricultural & Environmental Ethics
Volume 14
Issue 3
Pages 275-299
ISBN/ISSN 1187-7863
DOI 10.1023/A:1012214317970
Language English
Author Address Danish Research Centre for Organic Farming, P.O. Box 50, Foulum, DK-8830 Tjele, Denmark.
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Agriculture
  2. Animal husbandry
  3. Animal rights
  4. Animal welfare
  5. Ecological agriculture
  6. Ethics
  7. Livestock
  8. Livestock farming
  9. morality
  10. organic culture
  11. organic farming
  12. peer-reviewed
  13. Social psychology and social anthropology
  1. peer-reviewed