Becci Gindin-Clarke: The cruel truth about organic and free-range meat and dairy products

By Becci Gindin-Clarke

When I first learned about factory farming, I was disgusted. The extreme confinement, the routine mutilations, the horrors of transport, and the cruelty of slaughter—they all got to me in a big way. I decided that there had to be another option.

I began purchasing what I hoped were more humane alternatives, like free-range and organic products. Then I did more research into what it all meant, and I was troubled by what I learned.

The first thing I discovered was that words like “free range” and “free run” don’t mean very much. In Canada, the labels aren’t regulated at all. Typically, free-run animals are kept indoors for their entire lives, and, while free-range farms generally allow access to the outdoors, that “access” can be as laughable as a tiny door leading to a little gravel lot. The mutilations common on factory farms—debeaking, detoeing, dehorning, castration—are perfectly legal, and performed without anaesthesia. What’s more, free-range animals die just as young and in the same slaughterhouses as their factory-farmed counterparts.

When a farm calls itself free range or free run, it might consist of a few dozen happy animals wandering around outside, but it’s much more likely to consist of a few enormous sheds crowded with hundreds of thousands of animals who almost never see daylight until en route to the slaughterhouse. I found it disturbing that both types of farms qualify as free range.

Organic farms, I learned, tend to be superior. To qualify as organic, farms must adhere to a specific set of rules. Animals must be provided with a certain amount of daylight and outdoor access, and their shelters must be clean. Most importantly, there are third-party verifiers who are expected to monitor farms and ensure that they qualify as organic. Looks good, right?

Perhaps not good enough, since there are some things that didn’t change regardless of what kind of farm I examined. Even when one assumes that all the rules of organic farming are adhered to, there are certain unavoidable unpleasantries. For example, even organic animals—whether raised for meat or dairy or eggs—are sent to slaughter at a fraction of their natural lifespans. Chickens can live for 10 years or more, but when raised for meat, the organic ones die just as young as free-range and factory-farmed chickens—usually at around 45 days old, sometimes as late as 81 days. And cows can live into their 20s, but when raised for meat they are slaughtered at only a few years old. Egg-laying chickens are still slaughtered when they aren’t producing enough eggs, usually when they are about two, and dairy cows and goats are held up to a similar standard.

I also found out that, in B.C., there are no special hatcheries for organic egg-laying chickens. That means that they come from the same hatcheries as factory-farmed and free-range chickens, where male chicks are slaughtered soon after birth—typically, by being ground up in trash compactors or simply thrown live into dumpsters. And just as in conventional farming, any males born to ever-pregnant dairy cows and goats are usually taken from their mothers almost immediately and either slaughtered or raised for meat—and not necessarily on an organic farm.

And then we come to the end of it all. Both free-range and organic animals must be transported to slaughter. Organic rules allow no more than 24 hours without food or water. There are no rules for free-range animals, so they can travel more than 36 hours, exposed to the elements, to get to the same slaughterhouse as any factory-farmed animal. In B.C., organic animals are either taken to an exclusively organic slaughterhouse (there are two in the province) or a qualified conventional slaughterhouse, where they are killed before or after all the non-organic animals, so that the equipment can be sterilized. There does not appear to be any special “humane” slaughter for organic animals, though, so I can only assume that they die in the same manner as all the others.

In the end, I decided that, for me, “humane” isn’t humane enough.

Becci Gindin-Clarke is a director of Liberation B.C.

See also:
Meat just doesn’t cut it in today’s environment
Foie gras is a cruel dish better left unserved

Comments (25) Add New Comment
wow...I didn't know free-range and free-run are used so loosely. I hope to read more articles about practices that promote welfare for farmed animals
Rating: -2
The killing of animals for food is inherently cruel. It is absolutely unnecessary for us to eat meat, eggs, or dairy. Thanks for the article about these inescapable facts of raising animals for food.
Rating: -9
Thanks for the enlightening article!

No, we can't get the blood off our hands entirely (even vegetable farming causes some suffering), but we can vow to make conscious, compassionate choices daily to reduce unnecessary suffering and exploitation as much as possible.
Rating: -2
As a 22-year vegan I am glad to see an article on the myth of so-called "happy meat".... I have known for a long time that such a product simply does not exist.
Rating: +10
Thanks Becci and the Straight for this honest account of this dirty business.
Rating: -6
Most people have this idea that animals on organic and free range farms live an idyllic life on green pastures and die a pleasant death. Thank you for clarifying that misconception with this informative article.
Rating: -6
yeah, that is sick and quite misleading ... thanks for putting in the time to let us know what's going on.
Rating: +3
I am not a vegetarian or vegan, so while I still eat meat and dairy products, I wish there was an easy, efficient way of knowing that what I eat was produced humanely. It's very hard to find meat and dairy products that are guaranteed humane. I have no idea how to find out info about where to get humanely slaughtered meat. On top of that, these so-called humane and organic products are quite a bit more expensive. It's all very frustrating.
Rating: -5
Having just read your other articles, they're pretty eye-opening as well.
Rating: -8
Great article! More of this info should be out there. People are paying a lot of money for the free range stuff because they think the animals are treated ALOT better. Consumers should have the right to know!
Rating: +12
Amanda Daniell
Thank you Becci and Georgia straight for this very informative article. It is sad to hear how organic has lowered itself to sub standard levels. And how can any person call a living being "organic" anyway?
Rating: +8
Thank you for this really well written article about your findings, and I hope others will agree that "humane" really isn't humane enough.
Rating: +6
Many times, people who choose to eat meat and dairy labled free-range or organic do so because they want to believe that they are somehow making a better choice, as a so-called happy life of an organic or free-range animal must mean that ending that life is somehow "nicer". Torture and death are never nice. But factory farms and meat and dairy producers have a financially vested interest in making sure that we don't know the truth about what they really do to animals, and so they will go to any lengths to make it appear as though their slaughter practices are acceptable. Ms. Gindin-Clarke makes it clear to us that no matter what, animals bred and killed for human consumption all die in the same horrific ways. For those of us who still think that free-range and organic animals and animal products are acceptable, we might want to consider why we so avidly ignore what we already know is wrong.
Rating: -9
Its nice see this issue in the straight and that people are becoming more aware of what they eat. I have decided to not eat meat for this and other reasons. I hope to see more articles like this in the future.
Rating: -8
Thank you Becci for this informative commentary. I am glad that I can now stop spending so much money buying free-range and organic products and go back to enjoying meat the good old fashion way.
Rating: -6

This is agreat insight story. Lifeforce has investigated factory farms and the self proclaimed "green" alternative farming methods. It was obvious that in order to protect animals, to protect the health of people and to reduce Global Warming we must reduce/phase out the consumption dairy and meat products.
Organization must get back to the roots and promote getting more vegan food on the menus. Here is our Open Letter to Metro Vancouver Mayors regarding their recent oposition to "battery-caged" eggs.

Dear Mayors and Councillors:

Re: Eat Healthy and Protect People, Animals and the Environment

The Vancouver-based ecology organization, Lifeforce, is asking you to promote eating healthy by supplying more vegetarian and vegan items on menus in your public facilities. Trying to use “green” dairy and meat products does not protect people, animals and the environment.

You can reduce the animal suffering, health hazards, and Green House Warming by promoting eating non-dairy and non-meat products - a vegan diet. The intensive production of animals for dairy and meat contribute to 18% of Global Warming as compared to the more publicized transportation issue that is a 13% factor. We must reduce and phase out the 60 billion animals who are killed every year worldwide.

Ban Farm Animal Cruelty
There are anti-cruelty laws against confining and chaining dogs so the meat and dairy industries must not stopped from confining and chaining calves and pigs for months and longer. I was shocked to see the way animals are mistreated on farms in BC and the rest of Canada. Other countries are phasing out these barbaric practises and Canada must follow.

Governments and farm businesses market meat and dairy products as being from happy animals that live idyllic lives. They attempt to desensitize people. The animals are not treated like pets or companion animals living happily with farmers. If they want to act humanely they should support legislation.

Little Doggies
Calves are taken from their moms within 1 or 2 days after birth and are confined alone in tiny pens. Common practises include veal crates and huts. In veal crates the calves are kept on chains as short as 3 feet for months. In huts they are chained or fenced in. In some huts the short chains do not permit them to leave the hut.
See Video “Why be Cruel to These Little Doggies?”

Little Piggies
The gestation period of pigs is approximately 4 months and during this time they are chained in 2’ x 7’ gestation stalls. Just before the sow is due to give birth, she is moved to another restraining device – the farrowing crate – where she gives birth and nurses her young through metal bars. After anywhere from 10 to 21 days of nursing, her piglets are removed and the process is repeated all over again, pregnancy after pregnancy for 24 to 30 months.
See Video “Why Be Cruel to These Little Piggies?”

We have urged the Federal Government to implement legislation re:
1. Calves: Ban chaining, veal crates and restrictive huts practises.
2. Pigs: Ban chaining, gestation crates and farrowing crates.
3. Chickens: Ban battery cages.
4. Provide all animals with large clean indoor areas with access to large outdoor areas where they are free to run and socialize with others of their kind.
5. Require that all animals be given the basic freedoms to freely lie down, stand up, fully extend their limbs and turn around.

We Must Reduce the Billions of Animals Killed Annually

The old way of farming – less cruel treatment - won’t return if people continue to maintain or increase consumption of dairy and meat. People are getting sick from eating too much meat. We cannot eat the present amount of meat and be kind to animals too.

Eating animals means:
1. Direct suffering and cruelty in raising the animals continues in many ways such as overcrowding, filthy conditions, and darkness. It can be a hell filled with crippled, sick, and dead animals.
2. Basic freedoms are still restricted. In many situations the animals are not free to stand up, turn around, sit down and run freely.
3. Wild animal are still trapped or shot and killed as “pests” under farm management plans.
4. No protection of environment. Disastrous effects of manure systems, surface water pollution, resistant pathogens and more continues. Habitats are devastated by clearing forest for grazing, animal feed and factory farms. Not enough pastures for the annual 60 billion animals who are raised for slaughter.
5. The continuance of the shedding of E. coli 157 bacteria from cattle feces, which can contaminate the environment and, in particular, fresh produce.
6. People will starve or suffer malnutrition because grain is fed to fatten animals
7. Workers at slaughter houses and factory farms are psychologically harmed by killing billions of animals and physically harmed by the exposure to noxious gasses/numerous health hazards.
8. Those who live by slaughter houses and factory farms also suffer from the stench, clouds of flies, eye and skin infections, respiratory infections and dysentery, irreversible pulmonary and brain damage.
Note: The lagoons and sprayed fields emit hydrogen sulfide. And there is mounting evidence that shows severe or lethal neurological damage from this gas.
9. Farming pollution creates medical nightmares. The pollution contributing to heath problems will be worse than the asbestos issue of past decades.
10. Ecosystems and wildlife are devastated by pollution, global warming and other impacts from continuing the production of billions of animals annually.
11. The billions of animals would consume land/deforestation and increase wastes dumped directly into the environment.
12. Inhumane transport would continue.
13. Sale of animals at auctions will continue. (See Fraser Valley Auction abuses such as sick, injured and dead animals )
14. Inhumane slaughter would continue.
15. The corruption between industrial agribusiness and officials/politicians would continue and burden the tax system.
16. Alternative farming does not inhibit the expansion of the dairy and meat industries.

Egg and chicken friendly businesses? Often the no cage barns are side-by-side conventional battery –caged barns. So the buyers are still supporting factory farms. These “compassionate choices” are unknowingly financially supporting and perpetuating the inhumane systems. When it comes to animal agriculture neither are acceptable.

Buyers are not aware of the difference between “free range” and “free run” in which the latter are not given access to the outdoors. Even “free range’ are maintained inside the barn for the first four weeks with outdoor access for the last 2 weeks before being sent to same slaughter plants as intensively farm chickens.

The chicks come from the same Animal Factory Hatcheries where most unwanted male chicks are suffocated or eviscerated. And the females are still debeaked. They still pose the same biohazard risks too. Echo Hatchery and Poultry Breeding Farm in Aldergrove, BC wouldn’t provide numbers. But apparently Western Hatchery produces 250,000 chicks a day.

Eggs produced and marketed as “organic” or “cage-free” may not meet Risk Management food safety rules. HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) certified, which is something that most food services providers requires from any supplier of a potentially hazardous food.

Lifeforce found many businesses selling "free range eggs" animals for slaughter. One such operator was cashing in on the “range” egg business being promoted by animal welfare groups and at the same time selling goats for meat.

Lifeforce found many businesses advertising "specialty turkeys". One farm’s store was open to the public but not the turkey barns. The turkeys were in enclosed factory barns.

Just what does “specialty turkey” mean? Well it doesn’t mean any specialty treatment fot turkeys confined in the Animal Factory barns. Does the turkey really care if they are getting organic grain when they are raised under these inhumane conditions? And it is usually “nonmedicated” - no antibiotics if there are no health problems. If antibiotics are used then the birds are still slaughter.

Beef Cattle
“Certified organic” beef does not necessarily mean the animals are raised more humanely. Most are still sent to feedlots and/or auctions. Though some certified organic bodies have minimum space requirements, others do not, and most allow procedures like castration, branding and dehorning.

Good Intentions and Good Health for All

Lifeforce acknowledges your good intentions to help animals. As stated in this letter you can do a lot more can be done by just eating a lot less meat.

It is scientifically proven that meat is a risk factor for many diseases such as cancer, heart, and diabetes. These illnesses are the most frequent cause for illnesses and death in humans. This represents a growing financial burden for health care service.

There is a wonderful selection of vegetarian/vegan products on the market. The more we get off the shelf and into government run facilities the more likelihood there will be time to reduce Global Warming.

I look forward to your response.

In Respect for All Life,
Peter Hamilton

(More info at

Rating: -9
I have searched everywhere and all I can find are the differences in the labels as far as humane treatment goes.

I'm sorry, but I just don't care how humanely they are treated. I don't really think that makes me an evil person, but think what you will. What I would really like to know, and have not been able to find, is at what point (Free Run, Free Range, Organic) are these chickens - and their eggs - no longer subject to hormones and antibiotics?
Rating: -4
Rob g
It really annoys me when people complain about free range and organic and label it as cruel. It will probably never happen that all people will be vegetarian/vegan, too many people like eating meat and eggs, so why don't we try and make the production of them better. Why should focus on protesting agianst the much crueler battery and broiler system, and if we ever get rid of these methods of farming, we can focus on making the free range system better for chickens. For now buy free range meat and eggs and help stop much crueler methods of farming. Also, I wonder how many people commenting here have visited a chicken slaughterhouse or farm?
Rating: -6
Lindsay Brown
To Phruizler:

All the chicken you buy in the standard grocery isle will be full of antibiotics (as it is put in their food). It isn't supposed to be in "organic" but who knows right? Likely there will be no growth hormones added in your chicken as they are genetically modified so that they grow very fast. But you might be getting a little chlorine stores will sometimes soak the pieces of the chickens to clean them of bacteria (standard practice...look it up).

As for eggs....well they are a chicken's period. What ever the chicken ate you will be eating too. Also don't forget about all the baby chickens that are destroyed (i.e. ground up or just thrown away) because they are males and have no use in the egg industry. I bet you never thought of that.
And yeah...if you don't care about how the animals are treated it does make you an evil person.

To Rob g:
Although the animals may be treated slightly better in "organic" doesn't take away the fact that they are killed in EXACTLY the same way as the ones who are not considered "organic."
Rating: +1
Clementina Cubberley
Eating animal products is stealing from the animals . There is no way round this . Organic farms may be a fraction less disgusting, but ask the animals and i bet they would tell you they dont want to be exploited at all ! All animals in the farming industry suffer confinement, unnaural treatment , and early death . One prison being slightly better than another makes no difference .Will you ever feel really safe and guilt-free about where your products come from ? It is absurd to claim that we can never change people,so we should try and minimise cruelty instead of abolishing it . Aim to change the whole world today, and fight for as long as it takes ! Ignore the hypocrites , cowards and moderates - animals live on this earth too ! Animals are tomorrow !
Rating: +5


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