Standards not set in stone
THE perception that organic production standards are set in stone is outdated, as conventional medicines can be used to treat illness in livestock where animal welfare may be compromised.
That was the message from Soil Association (SA) inspector Philip Brook speaking at the conference. Producers should be in no doubt, he said, that animal welfare was paramount and standards, which include a curb on the use of many animal health products, were there as a framework and not rigid.
He answered concerns from producers over whether or not animals could be treated in the event of an illness, such as chronic mastitis, without jeopardising production.
"If antibiotics are needed and there is no alternative then they can be used. In no way does the Soil Association want to see welfare compromised. However, withdrawal periods could be longer," he said.
The standards encourage producers to search for alternative strategies to replace routine treatments such as drenching for worms. Managing clean grazing was one alternative, said Mr Brook.
However, the standards do require records to be kept in addition to those required by law, for example stock movement records. Grazing use and manure application records were essential to support management. "Records are only required for practical purposes," he said.
Once issued with a certificate to sell organic produce, standards would be enforced through annual inspections. The cost of this is included in the annual membership fee paid to certification bodies of about £200 plus 0.05% organic turnover – to a maximum of £800/year, said Mr Brook.