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Originally published October 17 2007

Must Organic Also Be Ethical?

by Al G Smith

(NaturalNews) Recent news about one aspect of the rapidly growing organic food marketplace in the UK has led to expressions of concern amongst those who believe that ethics should be an integral part of the definition of the term 'organic'. The sales value of the organic sector in the UK exceeded £2billion in 2006, an increase of almost a quarter compared with the previous year. This growth means that, after Germany and Italy, the UK is now the third largest consumer of organic products in Europe.

An increasing number of UK farms have 'converted' to organic production in order to tap into this boom. Even so, organic production is still lagging behind demand, which bodes well for the future prosperity of certified organic producers. However, certain practices in the production of organic milk have raised concerns amongst those who have assumed that 'certified' organic farming necessarily implies that more humane animal husbandry is being practiced.

Recent investigations have confirmed that in order to stimulate the 'natural' supply of milk from herds, some organic farmers employ the same practices as those used on typical 'non-organic' farms. This means that when dairy cattle are inseminated to stimulate milk flow, as well as swell herd numbers, any male offspring, being considered inferior for meat use, are either slaughtered within a day, or else sold on to European veal producers.

Such practices have been a cold, hard fact for modern farming and arguably required to ensure sufficient milk is produced, and that farms remain economically viable. With demand for organic milk rising by almost 140% in the last three years, the fact that cows are raised, fed and kept to organic standards does not seem to sit well with what may be deemed the consequential inhumane treatment of many male animals.

In 2007 UK organic dairy farmers will hand over some six thousand one-day old calves, to be slaughtered by the 'knackerman'. Alternatively, and potentially more financially attractive for hard-pressed farmers, calves may be sold on to veal producers, in Holland and elsewhere, that employ methods long-deemed too cruel to be used, and indeed illegal, within the UK.

The leading organic certification body in the UK, the Soil Association has now spoken out against these practices. The question raised is whether or not this wholesale slaughter, or maltreatment by proxy, of so many animals is commensurate with organic farming ideals.

However, not all of the various UK organic certifying bodies accept that it is either reasonable, or feasible for farmers to do anything other than maintain these practices. For many organic farmers the extra income, raised by the selling on of live, male calves, is essential to the future viability of their enterprise. The conundrum that will need to be solved, therefore, is whether the fates and treatment of these calves should be taken into consideration when defining if this form of milk production is truly 'organic'.

If consumers really think that the premium paid for milk produced to 'organic standards' should encompass the welfare of all animals involved in the process of production then these practices must be deemed unacceptable.

If on the other hand 'organic' should simply be seen as relating to the welfare and the feeding of the dairy stock that actually produce the milk, perhaps these farming methods, said to be vital to the future commercial well-being of farmers, simply have to be accepted.

What is certain is that UK organic dairy farmers cannot raise as pets some 6000 or more calves per year!

What is also apparent is that this issue does not begin to address the question that some see as of major significance: should humans continue to be encouraged to drink cow milk at all?

About the author

Al G Smith MSc BSc - Has been working and teaching in the food related sector for over 30 years and is currently a website publisher ( and Independent Representative for the World's first extensive range of Certified Organic skin care and cosmetics (

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