Animal health and welfare in organic agriculture

Animal Health and Welfare in Organic Agriculture
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What is a disease that needs treatment? Who is to decide about the treatment? Parasitic infections are discussed as an illustrative example. Other consequences of the regulations concerning the animal welfare are problems in certain geographical zones, for instance subarctic areas where necessary crops are impossible to grow. Animal transports and splitting mother-offspring are briefly discussed as future problems to be handled in the regulations, and the paper ends by presenting the need of regulated herd health control programs in organic husbandry, which can detect and focus on welfare and production problems.

The organic movement is not static, and must not be so. Ever since our human ancestors began to abandon the life as hunter gatherers and enter into an existence based on permanent settlements living from agriculture, animal husbandry has been a natural part of producing food. Through animals, nutrients, indigestible for humans, e. In our colder climate zones these nutrients could be stored in the animals until they were needed. It is no exaggeration to state that animal husbandry has been a necessity for man in order to be able to survive in cold climate zones.

Agriculture developed to begin with slowly. Initially by slash and burn methods, later with hay making agriculture leading on to farming with crop rotation. During the last 80 years, in Sweden especially during the last 50 years, the use of artificial fertilisers which now, with increased political support and a maturing view on agriculture, is changing towards organic farming. The main reason for this is the last decades focus on the damage caused by artificial fertilisers and the impacts of the circulation of nutritive substances on the environment.

Improving organic animal farming

With the increase in industrial agriculture followed a large-scale animal farming, focusing on maximum production output, not always favourable to the animals. Personally I grew up on a farm and later worked as a veterinarian in rural practice.

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This has given me the opportunity to follow the rapid development in animal farming during the last 50 years. I have even been a part in this "progress". To partake in this development does not necessarily mean that one sympathises with all that is seen, or with all that has been done. It has, especially during the last decade, become increasingly clear to me that a part of my work has been to act as a "cleaning lady" after the advisers and companies that has led the development in animal farming.

Technicians have introduced ventilation systems and constructed cubicles and pens.

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I have had to deal with calf pneumonia and mastitis. Feeding advisers have created food for animals and I have had to take care of disturbed stomachs, enteritis and distorted immune systems. Economists have recommended large-scale farming and the spreading of contagious diseases have been left for me to attend. To become aware of the fact that I, by hopefully being a skilful vet, have supported this development, and maybe even helped to maintain this practice of which parts should have been abandoned a long time ago, has increasingly frustrated me.

With this background I see organic animal farming as one of several possible ways to leave this form of animal husbandry behind us, a husbandry that does not put the animals and their needs in focus. Organic animal farming has in itself been in existence all the time parallel to this development, but it was not until the s that it began to be formalised. Organic products had to be certified, in one way or another, and give the customer information and knowledge of what it meant to buy "organic".

Gradually also the politicians began to catch the organic trend and started to support it with financial subsidies. Targets were set up.


The rest is well known to you all. An international umbrella organisation, IFOAM International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements , was set up with criteria to define, among other things, organic animal husbandry. Control work began in every participating country supervised by its central authorities.

Organic animal husbandry is not static. It is under continuous development. Many of the initial blunders and mistakes have in co-operation with others, among them the vets, been altered and corrected and work continues.

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In the year , EU decided that certain common rules were to be in force within the whole common market. It is from the basis of this regulation that I want to give some veterinary comments and thoughts on organic animal farming. We must presume that the regulation has been introduced to foster and improve the life of the animals. This is, however, not obvious to me.

No, the decisions behind some of the directives in the regulation are more to satisfy people's expectations and wishes on organic products and to keep the confidence in organic produced products high. No chemicals, no medical drugs.

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Many of the regulations are clearly to the advantage of the animals and their general welfare, e. These and other EU regulations are to be praised, but others really have to be debated. As a veterinarian I believe I can do better for animal welfare. Not only by giving assistance with setting up regulations to foster animal welfare, but also by bringing to your attention the weaknesses and discrepancies I see through my veterinary coloured glasses. We should also bear in mind that some people start organic farming from a subjective image of an organic ideal and not from sound knowledge of agriculture.

This does perhaps not lead to any serious consequences when it involves plant growing, but when it is associated with animal farming the consequences can be serious. There is nothing in the organic regulation that stipulates any knowledge on how to run and manage an animal farm. It does not even state to strive for as natural a life as possible for the animals. The real nature is far too tough for that. So let us take a look at some of these new regulations where, as a vet, I am of the opinion that animal welfare might be affected in a negative way.

Here I would like to debate the fear of using chemicals or medical drugs.

1. Introduction

I find among some organic farmers that this regulation tends to support their subjective opinion. The Swedish animal welfare legislation, which is alleged to be the toughest in the world, claims that animals have to be protected against diseases. My interpretation of the EU-regulation is, however, that you are not allowed to protect animals from diseases when there are no other ways left but using chemical "allopathic" products.

In my view the regulation here leaves the welfare of animals in the hands of the general public's and the customer's opinion on organic farming. Let me give you some examples:. In the North of Sweden attacks from gnats and mosquitoes can be deadly to animals. When these insects flutter about, humans, even the organic farmer protects himself with chemical repellents, or tight fitting clothes. Animals on conventional farms are protected with chemicals, e. When you see animals attacked by gnats and mosquitoes, you realise they do suffer badly.

I have on many occasions seen animals killed in this way.

Another example is tick born diseases. There are chemical protectors on the market, but it is unclear if they can be used prophylactically on organic farms without losing the organic status. Some tick born TBE-viruses can even spread via the milk from goats to humans if the milk is used in a non pasteurised state.

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Approximately half the feed is provided through automated feeding pans, with the other half offered as whole grain, distrib- uted three times a day inside the poultry house. Crop residues are collected in the spring and left in a heap near the house as an additional attraction for the hens. This means that many authors con- tributed beyond the individual chapters that bear their names. Personal communication, State Veterinary College, Lithuania. The average daily feed intake is g per bird. Previous Figure Next Figure.

The same thing can be said about Paraphilaria. There is no organically acceptable way to protect cattle against such fly attacks if you follow the EU-regulation. And, what about Haemonchosis in sheep and scabies in pigs? The eradication programme in conventional farming might leave only the animals bred in organic farming to suffer from these parasites and spread them. There is also a need to make clear if vaccines are seen as allopathic drugs. This includes the vaccines where its manufacturing is a result of genetic engineering.

In my opinion vaccination must be permitted and used in animal disease control and welfare programmes. Another thing that concerns me and many Swedish veterinarians and farmers is the ban on the use of synthetic vitamins in ruminant food. These additives are necessary and important in our Nordic climate with short grazing seasons and long, dark winters. The result might be lack of vitamins in high producing animals that can, among other things, affect their resistance against diseases.

It can also have an affect on the human customer who prefers to drink organic milk. What about the vitamin E and selenium additives that we find is needed in selenium deficient grazing and harvesting areas? How about pain killers to animals in pain? What signals do parts of this EU-regulation send to the consumers?