Skip to main content
Doctoral thesis, 2002

Ethics and animal welfare in organic animal husbandry : an interdisciplinary approach

Lund, Vonne


Farm animals make importance contributions to organic farming systems. This thesis deals with the value and aims of organic farming in relation to animal welfare concerns. The organic standards and other publications from the organic movement are analyzed to define basic values. These are related to ethical theory, and ecocentric ethics is suggested as an ethical position for organic farming. It is concluded that although the main concern is to develop sustainable and environmentally friendly farming systems, animal welfare is an important aim in organic farming. Two studies have been made of Swedish organic livestock farmers to examine their values and beliefs about animal husbandry and animal welfare. The first study comprised 15 equalitative in-depth interviews. The second study was a quantitative questionnaire study, where answers were analyzed using principal component analysis (exploratory factor analysis). Both studies showed that the ecocentric position can be identified among Swedish organic livestock farmers in their perception of animal welfare. An important finding is that the animal welfare concept is understood differently in organic farming from what is usual in conventional agriculture. It is interpreted in terms of natural living, which includes the possibility of performing a natural behavior, feeds adapted to the animal's physiology and a natural environment. Thus, it is important for the organic farmers to be explicit and communicate their view of animal welfare to other groups. A literature study was performed to learn about the actual animal welfare situation in organic animal husbandry. Only 22 peer-reviewed articles were found. There were no indications in the literature that overall health is worse in organic than in conventional herds. A very careful conclusion was that animal health in organic farming is as good or perhaps better – with the important exception of parasitic diseases. The thesis also analyzes conflicting values and dilemmas in organic animal husbandry, e.g., between the ecocentric position and aspects of animal welfare. The questionnaire study revealed two groups with partially differing values: farmers who see organic farming as a life style and who believe environmental issues and natural living are important, and entrepreneurial farmers who consider making money and new challenges more important. An ethical contract is proposed as a tool to handle the dilemmas. It is concluded that it is important for organic farmers and for the organic movement to take animal health and welfare issues seriously.


ecocentric ethics; ethical contract; animal welfare; natural behavior; natural behaviour; organic farming; organic livestock production; organic animal husbandry

Published in

Acta Universitatis Agriculturae Sueciae. Veterinaria
2002, number: 137
ISBN: 91-576-6394-7
Publisher: Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences

Authors' information

Lund, Vonne
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Environment and Health

UKÄ Subject classification

Animal and Dairy Science

URI (permanent link to this page)