Homeopathy is one of the options available. But the EU rules concerned refer to other types of natural remedy and are crystal clear that antibiotics may be used where necessary.
Organic farming by definition means farming practices which are as natural as possible. That is why consumers choose to buy organic. The less intensive nature of production already helps prevent disease.
It is therefore logical that organic farmers should favour natural remedies, where appropriate, but have recourse to antibiotics where there is no effective alternative.
Given the general issues of animal welfare and immunity to antibiotics as well as the importance that consumers of organic products attach to all aspects of production it would seem surprising if newspapers were arguing that antibiotics should be used in organic farming where not necessary.
The Telegraph also refers inaccurately to “European Commission rules”. But these are European Union rules adopted by elected MEPs and national Ministers, not handed down by bureaucrats. They were agreed – including by the UK – only after extensive consultation and stakeholder and expert input and can be changed only via the same procedures.
These rules on veterinary treatment for organic farm animals were introduced for the first time in 2000 and have ever since then included a priority for the use of natural treatments, provided that they are effective. Other treatment such as antibiotics is allowed, upon a decision by a competent veterinarian. This has not changed, except that the rules have applied to aquaculture only since 1 January 2015.
Meanwhile in 2014, the Commission put forward a new proposal to revise the organic farming rules as a whole. That wider proposal is now being discussed by the Council (Member States) and the European Parliament. Again no change is proposed to the principles on veterinary treatment set out above.
We were surprised that no information or comment seems to have been sought from EU sources – or indeed from organic farmers – before these articles were published.
Here is what the rules actually say.
“Disease shall be treated immediately to avoid suffering to the animal; chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products including antibiotics may be used where necessary and under strict conditions, when the use of phytotherapeutic, homeopathic and other products is inappropriate. In particular restrictions with respect to courses of treatment and withdrawal periods shall be defined.”
Here is the full legal text. Para 126.96.36.199 refers.
In Annex V, part 3 and in Annex VI, part 1.1. there is an extensive overview of natural remedies available, which include phytotherapeutic products, homoepathic products and trace elements.
It is reiterated there that they are to be used only “provided that their therapeutic effect is effective for the species of animal, and the condition for which the treatment is intended.”
Independent fact checker Full Fact has also published an article with correct information on this issue, along with an analysis of how the mis-reporting may have come about.
Updated 12 May 2015
EU organic farming rules prioritise animal welfare and natural food and do not insist animals are treated only by homeopathy,