Just Because Your Chicken Is Organic Doesn’t Mean It Was Raised Humanely | Mother Jones

By Twilight Greenaway & Adrien Schless-Meier | April 23, 2015

The USDA’s organic standards don’t prevent animal cruelty—but that may soon change.

This piece was originally published by Civil Eats.

Do you ever wonder why so much organic food also carries animal welfare labels?

The short answer is that while the US Department of Agriculture’s organic standards are very precise about pesticides and other growing practices for the crops that people and animals eat, it doesn’t include very many specific instructions about the way the animals themselves are raised.

“When people pick up organic milk, they’re expecting that the cows are out on pasture most of the time,” says Luke Meerman, one of the farmers behind Michigan-based Grassfields Cheese. And he’s right. In a phone survey conducted for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), 68 percent of the consumers contacted said they expected that animals raised on organic farms “have access to outdoor pasture and fresh air throughout the day.” Similarly, 67 percent said they believe “animals have significantly more space to move than on non-organic farms.”

But as Meerman, whose family runs a 90-cow farmstead cheese operation, can attest, organic certification doesn’t require either full-time pasture access or more space for the animals. That’s one reason his family has chosen to add the Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) label to its line of cheese.

“The USDA organic program really is failing to meet both the spirit of organic and consumer expectations around animal welfare,” says an ASPCA representative.

“Organic is about what the cow is eating and what you’re doing to the land,” Meerman says. “AWA is about the cow.” He takes special care to manage his animals’ pain, and keep young cows with their mothers for a week after they’re born, for example. And those are just two of the many welfare practices that organic doesn’t require.

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