What is ethical agriculture? It's farming without exploitative shortcuts. Ethical agriculture doesn't abuse livestock, people, or the environment.
The industrial farming system isn't trying to mistreat the animals they raise. It's just a byproduct of a system where animal welfare is never a real concern and businesses are only looking at profit margins.
It starts in the breeding programs that produce the livestock. Pigs are born to sows that live most of their life in a 7' by 2' gestation crate where they can't even turn around. Half of all egg layers have the misfortune of being born male and are thrown into a grinder soon after hatching. Modern breed turkeys are no longer capable of natural mating and must be artificially inseminated. In contrast, ethical breeding programs would provide comfortable housing, make more use of natural mating, and only produce livestock that have a chance of some type of reasonable life. Heritage breeds would be a common sight on ethically managed farms.
Ethical production methods would allow livestock to express instinctive behaviors; in fact most producers would use these traits to their advantage. Modern poultry, swine, and cattle confinement operations often have the animals living in terrible conditions; overcrowded, covered in manure, and lungs filled with ammonia. Ethical production would have animals that are clean, healthy, and happy.
Slaughtering procedures should minimize stress, keep animals reasonably comfortable, and render them insensible to pain before they are dispatched. Some of the most horrid examples of animal abuse come from slaughter facilities that fail to consider these basic ethical considerations.
Another aspect of agriculture is the treatment of people; more specifically, it's customers. The most glaring example is the lack of transparency. You wouldn't go through so much trouble to hide everything if their wasn't something worth hiding. The truth is that they are afraid that if you saw how your food was produced then you might not want to eat it. Ethical farms don't hide what they are doing, they are proud of it.
That pride can be seen in the product. Ethical farms produce high-quality, great tasting food that is loaded with nutrition.
Very high sanitation standards are also adhered to. In industrial farming the focus is on producing the maximum amount possible for the lowest cost.
More than half of all antibiotics produced in the US are administered to livestock. This is a direct result of the unsanitary conditions of confinement agriculture, if they weren't pumped full of medications then they couldn't survive in that environment. Repeated exposure to antibiotics promotes the spread of resistant strains. At the current rate, we may lose all effectiveness of existing antibiotics. Ethical farms would only use medication when required and would limit or eliminate exposure to other possible dangers(such as GMO grains).
Ethical farms help protect the environment. One way they do this is biodiversity. Industrial agriculture favors monocropping, plating an entire field with a single species. This causes soil chemical imbalance and allows faster rates of disease transmission. Ethical farms utilize polycultures such as companion planting, multispecies grazing, and "salad bar" pastures.
Chemicals such as herbicides and pesticides are overused in industrial agriculture. Ethical agriculture would greatly reduce or eliminate the use of these chemicals in favor of more natural types of controls. Examples would be guinea fowl for tick control or geese removing weeds from strawberry fields.
Finally, ethical farms minimize erosion by reduced tillage, cover crops, perennials and tree crops. Not only does this help maintain topsoil, but it also helps prevent flash flooding and sequesters carbon. Industrial farming plows fencerow-to-fencerow year after year. Organic matter in the soil burns up from oxygen exposure and greatly reduces the water holding capacity. Rain then runs off the farm instead of soaking into the soil and it takes the topsoil with it and can cause flooding. Without any water stored in the soil, drought conditions are exacerbated. Ethical farms can soak up rain and store it in the soil for later use.
Ethical agriculture is all about how we treat animals, people, and the environment. In the next post, we will talk about what EthicalAgriculture.Org will do to promote these ideas and what types of services we can offer.