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Old 12th November 2008, 03:47 AM   #15
Rolfe
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Originally Posted by godless dave View Post
Raising livestock outside with room to move around - which does require more acreage than raising them in enclosed structures - is considered more humane by some people, myself included.

Originally Posted by paximperium View Post
Not relevant to the economics. If you want to argue ethics, that is a relevant but completely separate issue.

I think it is extremely relevant, and I would urge Skepticalfred to address this point. The misconception that "organic" livestock production is more humane than conventional production is behind many people's ill-informed support of the organic movement.

Now, I'm all for extensive livestock production. I'm all for space and room to move around and freedom to express natural behaviour and so on. However, "organic" systems have no monopoly on that. Certainly, the organic rules include prohibitions on the more extreme forms of intensification. However, most livestock systems around here are extensive enough to fit these criteria, if the rest of the "organic" woo was added to the mix. Promotion of the fallacy that conventional farming is all of the "stalag sheep" variety and only organic animals are free to roam around is one of the more insidious and pernicious of the lies told by this bunch of cranks. (Also bear in mind that being outside is not always best for the animal. Where would you rather be in a January snowstorm? Out on the hill, trying to revive your freezing newborn lamb while you yourself are cold and wet, or in a nice cosy shed with a straw bed and a feeding trough and the shepherd only a few yards away?)

Support extensive farming systems on welfare grounds, by all means. Support high-welfare management systems, whether housed or outdoors. However, the minute they slap on the "organic" label, avoid them like the plague. On welfare grounds.

"Science" has spent many decades developing safe and effective veterinary medicines for both therapeutic and preventative purposes. These products contribute immensely to animal welfare, both by preventing diseases which are inherent in the very nature of the animals' life cycles, and by treating disease when it strikes. Safety has to be emphasised here, because very extensive and rigorous testing for safety (of the consumer) is a major part of the pharmaceutical licensing process.

The Luddite nature of the organic movement chooses to regard these products as "evil chemicals", and demonises their use. The ethos is profoundly anti-vaccination, even though there is no possible effect that vaccination can have on the end product. The ethos is also profoundly against prophylactic treatment, in spite of the fact that prophylactic anti-parasite treatment is a major contributor to animal health and welfare. And the ethos also heavily discourages even the treatment of sick animals.

Yes, the guidelines on paper say soothing things indicating that the welfare of the animal must come before the organic certification, but in practice it just doesn't work this way. The loss of organic status consequent on the use of veterinary medicines is a sufficiently important economic factor that instances of animals which should have been treated (or treated much earlier than they in fact were) are common.

Just one anecdote, from the spring of this year. I received into the post mortem room the carcasses of two young ewes. I was surprised by their size, because they looked like six-month-old lambs, but there are no six-month-old lambs in April. The were in fact a year old. They were stunted in growth, and also extremely thin. Body fat was virtually absent. The carcasses were soaked in foul diarrhoea. Routine post mortem examination revealed that they had died because of a severe infestation of gastrointestinal parasites.

I checked the paperwork. It stated that the farm was organic. By this stage, that was no great surprise to me. It also revealed that these were the ninth and tenth fatalities in the group, all with similar signs.

A farmer would not usually expect to lose any of a group of young replacement breeding stock, and while one-off incidents do happen, most would be shouting for help when a second death occurred. The condition that killed these sheep was easily prevented and easily treated - but of course that would have meant using the "evil chemicals". It's also a chronic condition. These poor sheep had been losing condition, getting thinner and thinner and suffering from increasingly severe diarrhoea for weeks. TEN of them (remember, young adults, who should have been in the prime of life) had died before any action was taken. Is this animal welfare? Not in my book.

Oh, but they were free to roam the hills! Well, whoopee. They were Blackface sheep. That's what Blackface sheep do. That's how they're all managed. The only difference was that they were not accorded the right to either preventative or therapeutic medical treatment.

And don't get me started on organic milk.

Oh, but I will give a quick mention to a new poultry farming initiative that's on the drawing board for near where I live. It involves about ten large intensive sheds, which will be pretty intrusive in the countryside. It's actually intended to be large-scale organic production. There's just enough access to outside runs to satisfy the "free-range" tick-boxes. However, don't go away with the impression that these are happy chickens freely pecking away around the farmyard. They ain't.

My opposition to the organic movement in livestock farming is three-fold. First, if there is indeed a problem with drug residues in animal products, action ought to be taken to eliminate this across the board. It's no solution to create a little ghetto of "organic" virtue and ignore the bulk of our food production. However, the fact is that there really isn't such a problem. Regulations governing the use of medicinal products and in particular withdrawal times are effective in preventing residues reaching the consumer. Arbitrary diktats that all withdrawal times should be doubled and/or products avoided altogether for a small sector of the market are simply ideology gone mad, and do nothing to improve consumer protection.

Second, there is the overt animal welfare problem, relating to cases such as I described above.

And third, the is the blatant promotion of absolute woo. I already mentioned the anti-vax element. Even worse than that, the organic movement is heavily into the promotion of homoeopathy, on the grounds that homoeopathic treatments obviously leave no drug resudues. Yes, that's because there's nothing in them! Nothing at all! Frankly, if you're going to deny a sick animal medical treatment on ideological grounds, then at least face up to what you're doing, and please refrain from doling out magic shaken-up sugar pills to kid yourself that you're doing something to help the poor beast.

They're also very much into unlicensed remedies of all sorts, especially anything herbal. The problem here is that herbal remedies, if they do anything at all, also have the potential to leave residues. However, as they're not licensed and there is no established withdrawal time, then that's all right then. These products are "natural", so they must be safe, and should be used in preference to licensed products of proven efficacy. In fact the result of this is often that products of dubious efficacy are relied on, and nobody has the foggiest idea whether or not there might be a residue effect. If of course a product of this nature was seen to have useful efficacy, the probability is that someone would do a formal trial on it and acquire a proper product license and formal evidence of any residue effects (with a statutory withdrawal time) - at which point it would, in the eyes of the organic movement, become an evil chemical to be avoided.

The animal welfare implications of the organic movement are something which it is absolutely essential to consider when discussing this subject. And "organic" methods do not come up smelling of roses. As I said, by all means support high-welfare farming methods and extensive livestock rearing systems. Just remember that many conventional systems are just as free-range as the organic ones, and that the organic ideology is about a lot more than just free-range space.

Rolfe.
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Last edited by Rolfe; 12th November 2008 at 04:26 AM.
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