Does Organic Farming Face Distinctive Livestock Welfare Issues? – A Conceptual Analysis

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Abstract

The recent development and growth oforganic livestock farming and the relateddevelopment of national and internationalregulations has fueled discussions amongscientists and philosophers concerning theproper conceptualization of animal welfare.These discussions on livestock welfare inorganic farming draw on the conventionaldiscussions and disputes on animal welfare thatinvolve issues such as different definitions ofwelfare (clinical health, absence of suffering,sum of positive and negative experiences,etc.), the possibility for objective measuresof animal welfare, and the acceptable level ofwelfare. It seems clear that livestock welfareis a value-laden concept and that animalwelfare science cannot be made independent ofquestions of values and ethics. The questioninvestigated here is whether those values thatunderpin organic farming, in particular, alsoaffect the interpretation of livestock welfare,and, if so, how. While some of the issuesraised in connection with organic farming arerelatively uncontroversial, others are not. Theintroduction of organic farming values seems tointroduce new criteria for what counts as goodanimal welfare, as well as a different ethicalbasis for making moral decisions on welfare.Organic farming embodies distinctive systemicor communitarian ethical ideas and the organicvalues are connected to a systemic conceptionof nature, of agriculture, of the farm, and ofthe animal. The new criteria of welfare arerelated to concepts such as naturalness,harmony, integrity, and care. While the organicvalues overlap with those involved in theconventional discussion of animal welfare, someof them suggest a need to set new prioritiesand to re-conceptualize animal welfare – forexample, with respect to ``naturalness,'' inrelation to the possibilities for expression ofnatural behavior and in relation to animalintegrity as a concept for organismic harmony.The organic perspective also seems to suggest awider range of solutions to welfare problemsthan changes in farm routines or operations onthe animals. The systemic solutions include thechoice and reproduction of suitable breeds,changes in the farm structure, and changes inthe larger production and consumption system – including consumer perceptions andpreferences. But the organic values may alsocall for sacrifices of individual welfare in aconventional sense in order to advance welfarefrom the perspective of organic farming.Whether this is good or bad cannot be decidedwithout entering into an inquiry and discussionof the values and ethics involved.