No, organic animal products aren't better for the environment
Earlier this year we tackled the inaccurate belief that 'local' animal products are better for
the environment or for animals. Now it's time to knock down another belief which suggests that the solution to the widespread environmental damage brought on by animal agriculture is to eat organic.
Recent research has found that the environmental cost of organic meat production is just as high as that of conventional production. When it comes to cows and sheep, the impact is about the same; for chickens, it is slightly worse, and for pigs, it is slightly better. The truly shocking thing is that even organic pig meat still causes eight times more damage than the most impactful conventionally-grown plant food, oil seeds.
The researchers did add that in some ways, choosing organic is still an improvement, as overuse of chemical fertilisers and 'mishandling' of the massive amounts of manure produced by farm animals causes additional air and water pollution, and that pesticides harm wildlife.
What about the welfare differences? First, it is necessary to state that in a world where the vast majority of us do not need to kill animals for food, there is no ethical way to do so. What's more, most of the rules for organic animal products exist for the health--and taste preferences--of humans, not the benefit of the animals themselves. That said, organic animals are likely to suffer less before they go to the slaughterhouse. (Labels like 'free range', 'Red Tractor Certified' and 'RSPCA Assured', however, are comparatively meaningless.)
As an example, let's look at chickens, the most commonly eaten farmed animal in the world. In the UK alone, we kill 900 million of these clever little birds annually (worldwide, the yearly number is 50 billion.) So few of these--just 3.5 million in the UK, or .3%--are raised in an organic system that it is difficult to get information about what their lives are actually like, but we can in the very least examine the standards set by the Organic Soil Association. Organic chickens grow at a slower rate than conventionally-raised chickens, who are sent to slaughter at about six weeks old, having been manipulated to grow at a rate so unnatural that many die of heart attacks or starvation when their legs break beneath the weight of their enormous breasts and they can no longer access food and water. Organic chickens get an extra month of life and are killed at about ten weeks old, still a bare fraction of their five to ten year lifespan. They are also raised in smaller groups: the rules state that there should be no more than 1,000 birds per shed, as compared to as much as 30,000 for conventionally-raised birds, including 'free range'. (That said, in the wild, chickens choose to live in small flocks of just 12 to 15.) They are also expected to have more space whilst in their barns and are provided with outdoor access earlier than free range birds.
The vast majority, however, are generally slaughtered in the same manner as conventionally-raised chickens, transported first to a slaughterhouse--there exists no maximum journey time for chickens, though standards require that they be given food and water after 24 hours for newly-hatched birds and 12 hours for adults--before being live-shackled upside down, dragged through an electrifying bath and having their throats cut. It is a short life and a cruel, terrifying death, and what's more, it's all completely unnecessary.
Aspiring towards an idealised 'organic' system of bringing animals into the world only to eat their bodies can only be a goal when there is no other alternative--and by now, we're all aware that there is. We also can no longer entertain the argument that 'at least', organic animal products are a boon to the environment--because now, we know that they aren't.
So why not make a real difference in 2021 and go vegan? You'll save animals, the planet and your health--and that includes reducing the likelihood of future zoonotic pandemics like COVID-19. Check out our page here for tips, starter kits and more!