Organic Animal Welfare Standards & Health Benefits
Michael Pollen said it best:
“You are what you eat, eats.”
Many shoppers dip their toe into Organic shopping with tasty salad greens and fresh fruits but more and more people are growing to appreciate the many benefits of Organic animal agriculture.
Choosing animal protein for your diet can be pretty loaded. Perhaps more than ever in history, we are consumed by our protein consumption: How many grams is enough? What kind? Where did it come from? Animal agriculture raises many questions for conscious shoppers about the environment, our beliefs about diet and health as well as our ethics. A food that raises so many diverse concerns is well served by the most holistic standard on the market today – Organic!
People who choose organic milk and meat often are concerned about improved animal welfare, the positive impacts of organic farming on the environment, avoiding GMO feed and the perceived personal health benefits.
Health: The secret is in the grass!
When animals eat better, so do we! This year a meta analysis was published that looked at data from around the world to identify clear differences between Organic and conventional milk and meat. The study found significant differences in essential fatty acid (EFA) profiles – the Omega-3 EFA was found to be 47% higher in Organic meat.
Omega-3s are linked to reductions in cardiovascular disease, inflammation, improved neurological development and immune function. This beneficial fatty acid composition is a result of the high forage content that is required for all Organic ruminants like cows.
When we list the health benefits of Organic meat, eggs and dairy it is also worth considering the benefit of reducing our exposure to antibiotic resistant bacteria. Organic is the only federally regulated system that ensures producers are not using unnecessary antibiotics. Antibiotic resistanceis one of the most urgent human health concerns today. Choosing Organic not only protects us personally from antibiotic-resistant bacteria it also provides a means to combat the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria in our food system at large.
Because animal health is at the core of Organic Standards, Organic livestock are never given routine antibiotics to increase growth or promote feed efficiency. Antibiotics can only ever be administered, with full documentation and traceability, when all other interventions have failed and it is deemed medically necessary. These practices are a stark contrast to the conventional livestock production model that uses antibiotics even when animals are not sick as a prophylactic or to promote growth. Eighty percent of antimicrobials, including antibiotics and antifungals etc. used in the United States are administered to livestock raised for food.
It is true that all Organic livestock eat an Organic, non-GMO diet but Organic is not just about what the animal eats it is about how the animal lives. Embedded in the Organic Standard are rules that have grown out of the value of respecting the natural behaviour of animals such as:
All livestock must have access to outdoors, shade, fresh air & sunlight
Access to pasture for all ruminants
Cages not allowed for poultry, rabbits or piglets
Not only does the Organic Standard facilitate safe and respectful animal husbandry, it does so in a transparent and traceable system. When you buy Organic products you know exactly what you are getting.
If a shopper were so inclined, they could know every detail about the care that an animal has received because it is all set out in the Canada Organic Standard. Claims like “free range” or “natural” have no rule or regulation defining them. Organic is a simple solution to all the confusing green marketing claims that abound.
Organic animal agriculture is a win- win- win- win as it benefits the animals, the farmers, the earth and the eaters.
Maureen Kirkpatrick, The Big Carrot Standards Coordinator