Yep, simple and straightforward: do laws about organic foods include directives about animal wellbeing? For example, if a firm that sells eggs wants to sell them as organic does it have to follow any rules about the place where the chickens live? like minimum surface per unit, etc.

  • 2
    There are as many laws as there are countries. Which are you interested in?
    – henning
    May 12 '17 at 17:57
  • yes, you're right. I would appreciate answers regarding the european level, the United States or any of the european countries.
    – Attilio
    May 12 '17 at 21:20
  • 1
    Also, differentiating rules that make a difference from an animal welfare standpoint from alibi rules would be relevant... May 15 '17 at 16:51

For products bearing the European Union organic label under regulation 834/2007, the answer is yes. Whether or not the regulation is strict enough may be evaluated differently, but clearly it is a huge progress compared to standard farm factory practice.

Article 3 defines the objectives and principles of organic agriculture. Accordingly, organic agriculture

respects high animal welfare standards and in particular meets animals’ species-specific behavioural needs

Article 14 specifies livestock production rules. Inter alia:

husbandry practices, including stocking densities, and housing conditions shall ensure that the developmental, physiological and ethological needs of animals are met

the livestock shall have permanent access to open air areas, preferably pasture, whenever weather conditions and the state of the ground allow this [...]

tethering or isolation of livestock shall be prohibited, unless for individual animals for a limited period of time, and in so far as this is justified for safety, welfare or veterinary reasons

any suffering, including mutilation, shall be kept to a minimum during the entire life of the animal, including at the time of slaughter;

disease prevention shall be based on breed and strain selection, husbandry management practices, high quality feed and exercise, appropriate stocking density and adequate and appropriate housing maintained in hygienic conditions

Similar provisions exits in article 15 with regard to aquaculture.

Of course, these provisions contain many general clauses and their effect depends on the concrete implementation. Article 37(2) delegates the implementation to the Commission, which is aided by a transnational expert committee (so-called 'comitology'), in order to facilitate even implementation across all (as yet) 28 member states.

Under this procedure, the Commission has adopted detailed technical specifications. For example, with regard to housing, Article 10 of the relevant implementing regulation provides:

The stocking density in buildings shall provide for the comfort, the well being and the species-specific needs of the animals which, in particular, shall depend on the species, the breed and the age of the animals. It shall also take account of the behavioural needs of the animals, which depend in particular on the size of the group and the animals' sex. The density shall ensure the animals' welfare by providing them with sufficient space to stand naturally, lie down easily, turn round, groom themselves, assume all natural postures and make all natural movements such as stretching and wing flapping.

Species-specific minimum floor areas are specified in an annex. Here are some extracts to give a rough impression of the regulation's strictness (or laxity):

  • Dairy cows: 6 sqm/cow indoors and 4.5 outdoors
  • Laying hens: 6 hens/sqm indoors and 4 sqm/hen outside
  • Fattening pigs: Depending on weight between 0.8 and 1.3 sqm/pig indoors and up to 1 sqm outdoors.

The main goal of organic labels is to prevent the usage of GMO or chemicals. I would add that it could depend on the country where you buy the food.

In short, there are standards but they are very low and not much different from the most basic legal standards for the treatment of animals in agriculture.

In France, the organic label requires that the animals are not excessively mistreated in some way. For example, organic eggs cannot come from battery farming and must have a minimum surface per chicken.
But that is only for animals that produce the eggs; it doesn't prevent any further animal cruelty as stated by the L214 association (in French): male chicks tend to be ground/crushed (also see this post), beaks can be cut short after the birth and chicken are killed after a year of egg-laying.
Moreover, the organic label doesn't cover the slaughter of the animals but only their well being while alive.

We can easily imagine this kind of behaviour is spread among all farming activities that involve animals and among many countries. You can read more info on the Wikipedia article on organic certification.

  • 2
    If the regulation includes a ban on gross mistreatment, then the answer is clearly yes, not no. It's just that you (and I agree) find this insufficient.
    – henning
    Jun 4 '17 at 10:02
  • AFAIK the situation in the UK is similar: the organic certification on eggs has a welfare requirement, but it's quite minimal
    – Zanna
    Jun 4 '17 at 10:30
  • @henning Good point, I agree. I updated my answer accordingly.
    – Niitaku
    Jun 4 '17 at 10:41
  • "The main goal of organic labels is to prevent the usage of GMO or chemicals" according to some of the sources you cite, that seems to be just one goal, not necessarily the "main goal".
    – istepaniuk
    Jun 27 '19 at 13:11

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