Food safety in free-range and organic livestock systems: risk management and responsibility

J Food Prot. 2009 Dec;72(12):2629-37. doi: 10.4315/0362-028x-72.12.2629.


Animal production systems that offer outdoor access to the animals have become increasingly popular in the Western world due to the growing general discontent of consumers with conventional bioindustrial farming practices. These open production systems offer improved animal welfare but may create new problems for animal health, resulting in increased food safety risks from bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections or environmental contaminants. Examples of these new problems include increased Toxoplasma gondii infections in pigs and high dioxin levels in eggs from free-range hens. In this review, the relation between positive and negative points of free-range and organic livestock production systems is discussed with reference to production in The Netherlands. We investigated how proponents of more animal welfare friendly systems deal with potential negative issues in public and whether any risk communication is used. Generally, we found that the existence of a dilemma is disputed or avoided in communication with the consumer. This avoidance could be detrimental for public trust in alternative animal production systems, should problems occur. To prevent future problems, it will be necessary to communicate about the relevant types and sources of the food safety risks to the consumers. The responsibility for protecting food safety should be properly divided among the various parties involved: producers, processors, governments, nongovernmental organizations, and consumers.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animal Husbandry*
  • Animals
  • Animals, Domestic*
  • Food Microbiology / standards*
  • Risk Factors