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Establishing ethical organic poultry production: a question of successful cooperation management?

"That people in a specialised society tear things apart to an extent that they are completely taken out of their context...., there’s, in my opinion, the chance to fight against it. We live in a world of specialists. We know always more about less". (director of an organic marketing association responsible for a dual-purpose breed initiatve)


In reaction to growing critics regarding ecological and ethical aspects of intensive animal husbandry, different initiatives of ethical poultry production try to establish alternative food supply chains on the market. To be able to stabilise these niche innovations parallel to the mainstream regime, new forms of cooperation along the value added chain and with the consumers play an important role. Based on a case study of integrated egg and meat production from a dual-purpose breed by small multifunctional farms in Northeast of Germany, the paper exemplifies the challenges for the different partners of the food supply chain and cooperation management. Empirical data were obtained via nine qualitative interviews with actors along the value chain and via participatory observation of workshops and meetings. The research was embedded in a transdisciplinary project, where different measures to meet the existing challenges were taken and evaluated. Analysing the existing cooperation reveals possibilities for improving cooperation management by e.g. clarifying the goals of the cooperation, including the points of sale as part of the food supply chain and communication of the ethical and sustainability qualities of the product to the consumers. However, the analysis also shows the limits of cooperation in an environment dominated by the paradigm of specialisation, economies of scale and cost reduction, which is also characteristic for parts of the organic sector. The paper discusses if the challenges of establishing this radical niche innovation can be met without a fundamental change of framework conditions as e.g. regulation on animal husbandry.

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Fig. 1


  1. The hens are kept in houses with nest boxes and perches; the floor is covered with litter material. There is a maximum of 9 hens per m2 usable area (Leenstra et al. 2014, p. 1).

  2. Free-range systems: inside identical to barn systems, but access to a pasture of 4 m2 per hen is provided (Leenstra et al. 2014, p. 1).

  3. Organic systems are a specific form of free-range systems, according to the requirements of organic production (EC 2008). Inside no more than 6 non beak-trimmed hens per m2 usable area are kept. Poultry has to be provided the possibility of moving outside for at least one-third of its lifetime in an area with vegetation and shelter. Besides, the animals receive feed according to organic standards (Leenstra et al. 2014, p. 1; Demeter 2016).

  4. Biodynamic farming started already in the 1920s and organic farming in the 1940s. However, only in the 1980s a broader public became interested in organic farming (Darnhofer et al. 2010).

  5. Numbers of the year 2017.

  6. Measures were designed and carried out by the whole research team and the case study partners, not only by the subproject, which focused on cooperation. They were based on additional analyses from the perspectives of knowledge management, acceptance and marketing (König et al. 2017, 2016).

  7. Marketing of broilers increased from 2044 in 2015, 2945 in 2016 to 4600 in 2017. Marketing of stewing hens increased from 2044 in 2015, 3450 in 2016 to 4700 in 2017.

  8. In summer 2018 first focus groups were carried out which explored consumer habits and willingness to participate in marketing systems of this type.


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Research was carried out within the project ginkoo, which is financed from 2015 to 2019 by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). More information: The article is based on experiences made within the whole transdisciplinary research project and exchange especially with Benjamin Nölting, Ute Günster and the coordinator of the group, Bettina König.

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Correspondence to Martina Schäfer.

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Schäfer, M. Establishing ethical organic poultry production: a question of successful cooperation management?. Agric Hum Values 36, 315–327 (2019).

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  • Ethical poultry production
  • Cooperation management
  • Alternative food supply chains
  • Dual-purpose breeds
  • Specialisation
  • Intensification
  • Niche innovations