Organic livestock farmers can manage their animals without the routine use of antibiotics and other drugs because they run a healthy, balanced system. This means not keeping too many animals on a given area, minimising stress, keeping a mixture of species wherever possible and providing a diet that is as natural as possible. Antibiotics are often routinely used in non-organic farming systems as growth promoters and to prevent disease. The World Health Organisation has called for a reduction in the use of antibiotics in agriculture because of the risk to human health.

The routine use of antibiotics to promote growth or to treat the whole herd or flock as a preventative measure is banned under the Soil Association's standards. Antibiotics can only be used to treat sick animals. Homeopathy and herbal remedies are used widely in organic livestock management. However if antibiotics are needed to prevent the suffering of a sick animal then that treatment must be used.

Health risks

Under an organic system growth-promoting drugs are banned and organic farmers are encouraged to choose slower growing breeds which are well suited to free range systems. Vaccination can only be used if there is a known disease risk on the farm, or neighbouring land, which cannot be controlled by any other means.There is widespread concern about the use of antibiotics in intensive poultry units. The British Medical Association is concerned that the "risk to human health from antibiotic resistance is one of the major health threats that could be faced in the 21st century".

Due to the large flocks, disease can spread very quickly in intensive farms. Low doses of antibiotics, given in feed and water are a form of insurance against disease for the farmer. But long-term, low-dose exposure is far more likely to create resistance to antibiotics than the occasional use of veterinary drugs to treat illness. Many of these antibiotics are also used to treat humans.

Our standards are based on the principle that prevention is always better than cure. Organic standards have many rules which ensure better husbandry and living conditions to help prevent illness occurring. Organic farmers would only use a course of antibiotics to treat a specific problem and to prevent any unnecessary suffering.