‘Organic’ Label Doesn’t Mean a Holiday Ham Was From a Happy Pig
By Michael Haedicke
This holiday season, Americans will buy some 20 million turkeys and 300 million pounds of ham.
Some of these turkeys and hams will be certified organic, reflecting the common belief that organically raised animals live happier, more natural lives.
The reality, though, is more complicated.
Government regulations for organic farming contain few specific protections for pigs, poultry, egg-laying hens and other animals raised for human consumption. So conditions on organic farms may not actually be all that different from those at traditional livestock operations.
The organic food industry has grown enormously in the U.S. in recent decades.
Organic farming began as a radical cause in the 1970s embraced by a small group of farmers in California and a handful of other states. These pioneers sought to grow food naturally, rather than assert their dominance over the earth. As such, they eschewed synthetic pesticides and fertilizers.
Animal ethics were part of these farmers' vision, too. Rather than thinking of livestock only as producers of meat, milk and eggs, many organic farmers viewed animals as equal partners in a farm ecosystem that perform important functions like fertilizing soil and controlling pests.
Organic is now mainstream. Organic food sales in 2018 totaled nearly US$48 billion, up from $8.5 billion in 2002. Two-thirds of shoppers have tried organic products.
But organic agriculture has struggled to maintain its early commitment to animal welfare.
In 2016, the U.S. Department of Agriculture under President Obama announced a new rule that enhanced animal welfare requirements for organic farms. Among other things, it set strict rules for outdoor access and prohibited what USDA called "physical alterations" of animals – what animal rights advocates call "mutilations."
In mainstream agriculture, pigs' tails are often amputated, or "docked," so that they will not be bitten off by other pigs. Chickens have portions of their beaks removed to prevent them from pecking one another.
But the agency scrapped the new rule two years later, in 2018, before it could take effect.
Dismayed animal welfare advocates and organic farmers blamed resistance from big agriculture and the Trump administration's goal of eliminating regulations for the policy change.
There's some truth to these assertions. But my research on the history of organic food finds that politics isn't the only reason organic farms aren't required to treat animals more humanely.
USDA Misses the Mark
The Organic Foods Production Act – the only law governing organic farming in the United States – simply doesn't authorize federal regulators to protect animals raised "organically."
Congress passed the Organic Foods Production Act in 1990, directing the USDA to write national organic farming regulations.
Like many early organic farmers, the USDA's new rules focused on the integrity of agricultural materials. Fertilizers and pesticides from natural sources were allowed, while synthetic ones were mostly prohibited. In other words, the USDA defined "organic" to mean the lack of unnatural inputs.
When it came to more complicated questions about how livestock should be treated, though, the rules were vague. The law that came down from Congress offered the USDA little guidance on regulating organic animal welfare.
On conventional farms, animals are often raised in confined barns or cages, never seeing sunlight or breathing fresh air. The USDA's organic regulations, which went into effect in 2002, required "access to pasture" for cows and "access to exercise areas, fresh air, and direct sunlight" for poultry.
What this meant in practice remained open to interpretation. Some dairy farms grazed cows for just a few months, relegating them to dirt yards for the rest of the year. Large egg operations provided hens with small, concrete-floored porches.
Defending the Animals
To improve how animals are treated on large-scale organic farms, animal welfare advocates have worked creatively within the USDA's limited regulatory scope.
Because organic regulations define allowed versus prohibited materials, activists have sought to extend the prohibition on synthetic fertilizers and pesticides to materials used in organic animal agriculture. Some have lobbied federal regulators to prohibit the synthetic protein methionine – a food supplement for birds raised in confinement – in organic farming.
If farmers cannot use methionine, their thinking goes, industrial-style organic chicken farms will no longer be viable. Farmers would have to raise chickens in smaller, outdoor operations. The birds would benefit.
Activists have also pressured ethically minded consumers to demand better living conditions for animals.
An animal rights watchdog group called the Cornucopia Institute in 2014 released aerial photos of large organic farms in the U.S. The images showed gigantic buildings and barren yards in which dairy cows and egg-laying chickens spent their days – not the bucolic conditions that many consumers envision when they buy organic.
"Shoppers who passionately support the ideas and values represented by the organic label understandably feel betrayed," the Cornucopia Institute press release noted.
The USDA defends its decision to withdraw the Obama-era organic animal welfare standards that would have enhanced outdoor access and prohibited tail docking and beak trimming.
According to public statements by the agency, it lacks authority under the 1990 Organic Foods Production Act to implement such expansive rules.
My research confirms this. Congress gave the USDA a mandate to regulate synthetic inputs, not complex farming practices. There is very little in the 1990 federal organics law about animal welfare.
The Trump administration's decision to kill protections for organically grown animals is now in court, following a lawsuit against the USDA filed by the Organic Trade Association.
For concerned consumers, that means that serving an ethical holiday dinner requires some research.
Pigs and turkeys on some organic farms may well live their lives very differently from their conventionally raised cousins. But an "organic" label does not guarantee this.
Michael Haedicke is an associate professor of sociology at Drake University.Disclosure statement: Michael Haedicke does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond his academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- USDA Plans to Side With 'Fake Organic' Egg Producers, Ditch ... ›
- Angering Organic Farmers and Advocates, Trump's USDA Kills ... ›
- Organic Meat Is Bad for the Environment, Study Shows - EcoWatch ›
By Hui Hu
Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
While traditional investment in the ocean technology sector has been tentative, growth in Israeli maritime innovations has been exponential in the last few years, and environmental concern has come to the forefront.
theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
- 14 Countries Commit to Ocean Sustainability Initiative - EcoWatch ›
- These 11 Innovations Are Protecting Ocean Life - EcoWatch ›
- How Innovation Is Driving the Blue Economy - EcoWatch ›
By Jeff Turrentine
Tamara Lindeman certainly doesn't seem particularly anxious, or grief stricken, or angry. In fact, in a recent Zoom conversation, the Toronto-based singer-songwriter (who records and performs under the name The Weather Station) comes across as friendly, thoughtful, and a little shy.
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="e4d236b2ab0f186d2a521373ea043a62"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/OJ9SYLVaIUI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="0f2439cf169f10914f841f8e67acbc6d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/nHY0luoxn9k?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="2efc4ee0e3ccb8da9660b01f86a1a8b6"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/gDcxg56nZAo?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
- 10 Musicians Taking on the Climate Crisis - EcoWatch ›
- The Power of Inclusive, Intergenerational Climate Activism - EcoWatch ›
- Global Outrage After India Arrests Climate Activist Over Farmer ... ›
Walking to work or to the store is better for the climate than driving, so climate advocates encourage people to leave their cars at home when possible.
An independent market monitor says ERCOT, the Texas grid operator, left wholesale electricity prices at the legal maximum for two days longer than necessary, and overcharged power companies $16 billion in the process during the winter storm that caused massive grid and gas system failures and left more than 4 million Texans without electricity.
- Extreme Winter Storm Wreaks Havoc on Grid, Energy Markets ... ›
- How the Texas Electricity System Produced Low-Cost Power but Left ... ›
- Polar Vortex Power Outages: 6 Things to Know About Supply ... ›
- Winter Storm in Texas Sparks Renewable Energy Debate - EcoWatch ›
- Texas Blackout: Death Toll Mounts, Food and Water Are Impacted ... ›