Are clear organic conditions defined for organic livestock to be kept and managed?
Within the European Union (EU), guidelines on ethical and suitable conditions for organic livestock are poorly defined. It is stated that in ‘most cases’, weather conditions permitting, livestock should have permanent access to open-air areas for grazing organised under a system of rotation. The number of livestock must be limited to minimise overgrazing, erosion or pollution caused by animals or by their manure. On the other hand, EU regulations clearly state that tethering or isolating livestock is prohibited, unless for a limited period of time and only for safety, welfare or veterinary reasons. Transportation of livestock should be minimised to ensure the welfare of the animals, and suffering (including mutilation) must be kept to a minimum during the entire life of the animal, including at the time of slaughter.
In comparison, US regulations are more prescriptive. For all animals, year-round access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air, clean water for drinking and direct sunlight are required, in accordance with the species, their stage of life, the climate and the environment. Feeding spaces should be large enough to feed simultaneously without crowding and without competition for food, and continuous confinement of any animal indoors, in yards or feeding pads is prohibited. While no specific rules exist on aspects such as tethering, mutilation techniques and suffering, general guidelines exist about confinement, pain and stress minimisation.
Must organic livestock be fed only fully organic feed?
European Union (EU) regulations stipulate that livestock shall be fed with organic feed that meets the animal’s nutritional requirements at all stages of its development, and that feed should come from the same farm or from other organic holdings in the region. This is not always compulsory though, and non-organic feed can be given, for instance, where a feed material is not available in organic form, in sufficient quantities or qualities or if alternatives are not available. Also, additives and processing aids can be used minimally, although they are restricted to essential technological or zootechnical needs or for particular nutritional purposes; for instance, certain minerals, trace elements and essential vitamins may be given depending on climate and available sources of feed. Regulations strictly prohibit GMO (genetically modified organisms) products as feed, growth promoters and synthetic amino acids; guidance also states that suckling mammals must be fed with natural milk, preferably maternal.
In the USA, livestock must receive feed entirely composed of organic agricultural products, including pasture and forage, although some synthetic substances are allowed as feed additives under defined circumstances. Natural organic-approved substances may be used more commonly as feed additives, such as trace minerals and vitamins, used for enrichment or fortification, but no feed supplements are approved in the USA. As in the EU, US regulations clearly state no GMO food is allowed for organic livestock.
Can synthetic or GMO (genetically modified organism) drugs like steroids and antibiotics be given to organic livestock?
In the European Union (EU), farmers shall prevent diseases by selecting the appropriate breed and strain, using adequate housing and hygienic conditions. Synthetic allopathic veterinary medicines (including antibiotics, anti-parasitic drugs, hormones and mediators, anti-inflammatory and analgesic drugs), drugs affecting the nervous system (e.g. sedatives and anaesthetics) and drugs with a specific effect on target organs may be used in the event of sickness, in certain situations.45 Nevertheless, there is no definitive EU list of approved substances or clear criteria for when the use of organically approved phytotherapeutic, homoeopathic and other products is inappropriate, or what withdrawal periods apply specifically to each substance. While no synthetic substances are officially approved for use, the Veterinary Medicine Directorate (VMD) certification body can approve their use on an individual basis upon request. Withdrawal periods are generally based on VMD guidance, but extended and implemented under EU regulations. In the UK, the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) specifies that the withdrawal period between giving an allopathic veterinary medicine and the production of organically produced foodstuff should be twice the legal withdrawal period or, if not specified, 48 hours. The type of medicine used must be recorded clearly, including an indication of the active substances, with details of the diagnosis, dosage, method of administration, duration of treatment and the legal withdrawal period. This information must be declared to the organic inspection body before livestock products are marketed as organically produced. For synthetic allopathic veterinary medicines used in a manner other than that specified in the Marketing Authorisation, the withdrawal period is 7 days in the case of eggs or milk and 28 days for meat from poultry or mammals (including fat and offal).
In the USA, the rules allow parasiticides on breeder stock (not during lactation for progeny that are to be sold as organic) and dairy stock, when used a minimum of 90 days prior to the production of milk or milk products that are to be sold as organic. Any edible product derived from an animal treated with antibiotics or synthetic or natural substances not allowed under the regulations shall not be sold as organic. Regulations in the USA also state that farmers must not withhold medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status, and that all appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when organic methods fail, although withdrawal periods will be applied. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a defined list of synthetic substances which are approved for use and their relative withdrawal periods.
In both the USA and the EU, organic practice does not prevent from treating livestock with synthetic or GMO medicinal means to reduce animal suffering where organic alternatives are either absent or not as effective. However, EU organic livestock regulations are vague as to what non-organic medicinal means can be used in treating organic livestock, while US regulations explicitly define under what circumstances it is allowed and with what withdrawal periods.