Select Committee on Agriculture Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum submitted by the Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit, University of Reading (F 30)


  1.  The following evidence is submitted by the Organic Livestock Research Group of the Veterinary Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit, Department of Agriculture, the University of Reading. During the past five years, the Research Group has carried out various projects relating to animal health and welfare in organic livestock production. We are currently working on three projects looking at specific animal health and livestock production issues in organic farming.

  In the past, we have been actively involved in formulating recommendations for further research needs to improve animal health and welfare in organic livestock production systems (Roderick and Hovi, 1999). The Group co-ordinates an EU-funded research network on animal health and welfare in organic agriculture, which has brought together 17 institutes from 13 EU countries (for further details, see web-site: http// ). One of the objectives of the network is to create a forum for an on-going discussion on animal production and welfare within the framework of organic livestock production, in order to contribute to the development of organic regulations.


  2.  During the course of our work, we have collated evidence, both in the UK and elsewhere in the EU, to suggest that organic standards and practices can result in the production of healthy livestock with high standards of welfare comparable to, and occasionally better than, those found in conventional systems. (Weller et al., 1996; Roderick et al., 1996; Roderick and Hovi, 1999; Hovi and Roderick, 1999).

  3.  We also suggest that the organic livestock production standards in the UK (UKROFS, 1997) enhance animal health in many production systems by enforcing species-specific feeding routines (eg minimum forage levels for ruminants) and production targets (eg minimum growth periods for table poultry and minimum weaning age for piglets).

  4.  We are also convinced that the organic livestock production standards provide a basis for practices that are beneficial to animal welfare (eg enforcement of free-range systems, prevention of mutilation).

  5.  Our recent research suggests that the disease control and treatment practices on organic livestock farms reduce the general dependency of livestock production on the use of antibiotics and anthelmintics as a routine production input without necessarily jeopardising animal welfare (Hovi and Roderick, 1999). Similar evidence is apparent from other European countries where organic livestock production is more common than in the UK (Von Weber et al., 1993; Vaarst, 1995).



6.  Whilst we recognise and endorse the above advantages of organic livestock production systems on animal health and welfare, we would like to draw attention to the following:

    —  It is commonly acknowledged (Lund, 1995; Niggli, 1999) that animal health and welfare issues in organic farming are not adequately researched.

    —  There are specific areas of research and development that require urgent attention to enable UK organic producers to be compliant with the requirements of the new EU Regulation 1804/99, which comes into being in August 2000. From the results of our recent survey of organic livestock producers (Roderick and Hovi, 1999), we would particularly like to highlight the following areas of research, which we feel are of particular importance, some of which are currently being funded.

      —  Alternative approaches to the use of antibiotics in controlling certain production diseases, and in particular an alternative strategy to control mastitis in dairy cows (currently, the conventional approach relies on routine, blanket use of antibiotics).

      —  The breeding and selection of animals that are more resistant to production diseases and better suited to the production systems they are part of (N.B. a MAFF-funded project on breeding criteria for organically managed dairy cows was initiated by Scottish Agricultural College in April 2000. MAFF is also currently funding projects examining the suitability of different breeds of pigs and poultry to organic systems).

      —  Development of animal welfare assessment methods as part of the on-farm management system, to provide producers, advisors and veterinarians with a tool to assist them in their efforts to achieve improved animal welfare. this is particularly important in the light of the advances that are being made in this field in the other EU countries eg Bartussek, 2000).

      —  Development of alternative parasite control strategies (N.B. a MAFF-funded project on integrated control of parasitic gastroenteritis in organically managed ruminant species was started in January 2000 by a consortium of research organisations).

      —  Development and testing of innovative and welfare-friendly production systems, including housing and husbandry strategies.

      —  Development and testing of suitable animal health plans for conversion and organic management , including risk assessment procedures.

      —  Development of animal health and welfare related-training materials for advisors and vets (eg a MAFF-funded project currently being completed by the OLRG and producing an electronic resource compendium).

      —  Continued surveillance of converting farms and epidemiological surveying of key diseases to identify emerging health and welfare problem areas in the organic livestock sector.

      —  Assessment of trace element deficiencies and development of alternative approaches to mineral/nutrient supplementation (a proposal has been submitted for MAFF funding).

      —  Research into organic poultry production on the following issues: Animal health and welfare consequences of rearing organic chicks for the organic poultry market; biosecurity and other food quality issues associated with organic poultry production.

Standards and regulations

  7.  The new EU Regulation 1804/99 has a built-in review mechanism for several of the key issues that are of great importance to animal health and welfare management of organic livestock (eg limited number of allopathic veterinary medicinal treatments allowed). The veterinary profession should be actively involved in the review of these regulations in the future.

  8.  Whilst we fully support the aim to reduce dependency on antibiotics in disease control, we would like to point out that the major reductions in antibiotic and anthelmintic use should be made through the reduction in the prophylactic use of such medicines, rather than restricting their use in the treatment of clinically diseased animals. We are, therefore, concerned that the draft EU standards (EU regulation 1804/99 and draft UKROFS standard) suggest that organic status should be withdrawn from animals that have been treated with antimicrobials more than twice in their lifetime or within any given year. This could lead to non-treatment of animals with the best available drugs, causing unnecessary suffering to these animals.

  9.  Whilst we recognise the socio-economic role that livestock markets have in rural communities, we fully endorse the organic standards that currently prohibit the sale of animals via livestock markets. This is beneficial both from the disease control and animals welfare point of view. We are, however, concerned that the EU Regulation 1804/99 does not enforce this issue and that there is a pressure to allow organic livestock to be put through livestock markets in the future. We would, therefore, support any initiatives from MAFF or the organic sector to establish livestock marketing systems that would avoid the use of livestock markets and the associated risks to animal welfare and disease control.


  10.  We recommend that there is a need to increase funding for research into organic farming and into organic livestock production in particular. This research would benefit not only organic farmers and the animals managed under organic standards, but also conventional farmers by reducing their dependency on chemical disease control and related disadvantages.

  11.  We also urge a careful consideration of the new EU organic livestock production standards with regards to animal health and welfare issues (EU Regulation 1804/99). This should be done in full consultation with the expert veterinary bodies.

10 June 2000
Malla Hovi
Stephen Roderick


  Hovi, M, Roderick, S. (1999) Mastitis in organic dairy herds. Results of a two-year survey. In: Proceedings, Mastitis — the organic perspective, Stoneleigh, 3 September 1999. The Soil Association. 1-6.

  Lund, V (1995) Husdyrhold I Okologisk Lantbruk. Report, Norwegian Centre for Ekological Agriculture.

  Niggli, U (1999) Research and training in organic farming in the EU. Presentation at the 11th National Conference on Organic Farming, Soil Association, Cirencester, 8-10 January 1999.

  Roderick, S, Hovi, M (1999) An assessment of animal health and welfare research priorities in organic livestock production in the UK. A Report to Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, UK. Pp.112.

  Roderick, S, Short, N and Hovi, M (1996). Organic livestock production: Animal health and welfare research priorities. VEERU, Department of Agriculture, The University of Reading, Reading.

  Weller, RF; Cooper, A and Wilkinson, R (1996). Animal health. In Conversion to organic milk production, IGER Technical Review no. 4: 96-111.

  Vaarst, M (1995). Sundhed og sygdomshantering i danske okologiske malkekvaegbesaetninger. A PhD-dissertation, Danish Institute of Animal Science. 162pp.

  Von Webber, S, Pabst, K, Ordloff, D and Graevert, HO (1993). Funfjahrige Untersuchungen zur Umstellung auf okologische Milcherzeugung. 2. Mitteilung: Milchqualitat and Tiergesundheit. Zuchtungskunde. 65: 338-347.

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