Memorandum submitted by the Veterinary
Epidemiology and Economics Research Unit, University of Reading
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//:www.veeru.reading.ac.uk/organic/
). 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,
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
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
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
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
10 June 2000
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
Roderick, S, Hovi, M (1999) An assessment of
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Roderick, S, Short, N and Hovi, M (1996). Organic
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Weller, RF; Cooper, A and Wilkinson, R (1996).
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