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Organic Standards Support and Promote Animal Health

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Animal health relies to a great part on animal husbandry practices. Under the U.S. National Organic Program, organic farmers are required to provide healthy living conditions and animal welfare practices that are good for the well-being of the animals being raised.

Livestock health care practice standard (Section 205.238)
Producer must establish and maintain preventive livestock health care practices
• This includes providing appropriate housing, pasture conditions, and sanitation practices to minimize the occurrence and spread of diseases and parasites.
• Conditions must be provided allowing exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species.
• Performance of physical alterations as needed to promote the animal’s welfare and in a manner that minimizes pain and stress.
organic cows on pasture
Livestock living conditions (Section 205.239)
The producer of an organic livestock operation must establish and maintain livestock living conditions which accommodate the health and natural behavior of animals, including:
• Access to the outdoors, shade, shelter, exercise areas, fresh air and direct sunlight suitable to the species, its stage of production, the climate and the environment.
• Access to pasture.
• Appropriate clean, dry bedding.

Prohibited by the U.S. national organic standards
• Synthetic growth hormones
• Plastic pellets for roughage in feed
• Urea and animal waste in feed for organic livestock.
• Antibiotics
• Use of genetic engineering
• Use of toxic and persistent pesticides
• Use of sewage sludge on fields.

Of Note:
During 2009, the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB), which advises the National Organic Program at USDA, adopted a recommendation for rulemaking to make the animal welfare provisions of U.S. national organic standards more prescriptive (see http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5081490). Among the additions:
*All surgical procedures shall be undertaken in a manner that employs best management practices in order to minimize pain, stress and suffering, with the use of anesthetics, analgesics, and sedatives.
* Tail docking of cattle is prohibited except when necessary for veterinary treatment of injured animals.

Information on health of dairy cows

(Source: Health of dairy cows managed organically, by Dennis Johnson, Dairy Production Systems, WCROC, Morris, MN, www.extension.umn.edu/dairy/dairystar/01-13-07-Johnson.htm)

*University of Wisconsin researchers Pol and Ruegg studied herd health on 20 organic farms and 20 conventional dairies. Results showed only 20% of cows in the organic dairy herds had problems with mastitis, compared with 40.9 percent of those in the conventional dairy herds. Respiratory problems (0.8 percent on organic farms compared with 3.3 percent on conventional farms) and metritis (9.3 percent on organic versus 15.3 percent on conventional farms) were less on organic farms. Bovine whey products and garlic tincture were the most frequently used medications for clinical mastitis on organic farms. Cephapirin was the drug used most frequently for clinical mastitis on the conventional farms. Satisfaction with treatment results were 40 percent on conventional farms and 74 percent on organic farms.

*Organic dairies treat mastitis with a range of tactics varying from frequent milk-out to homeopathy to utilization of a variety of organic medications such as garlic or antibody blends.

For dairy operations, organic certification requires a record of:

  •  Implementation of an Organic Livestock Plan
  •  Mandatory outdoor access
  •  Access to pasture
  •  No antibiotics, growth hormones, or GMOs
  •  100% organic feed and approved feed supplements
  •  No rotating animals between organic and non-organic management.