Homeopathy and the Soil Association
Guest blogger - 06 April 2011
Chris Atkinson, Head of Standards at the Soil Association, gives the low down on the use of complementary remedies for treating organic animals.
We’ve seen lots of activity on Twitter around homeopathy recently but 140 characters doesn’t really do justice to this interesting issue so I thought I would use our new blogging platform to go into a bit more detail and explain how homeopathy and other complementary therapies fit into our organic standards.
First and foremost, organic standards put the health and welfare of animals above anything else. Our focus is primarily on good husbandry and positive health, not medicines. We have a cautious approach to the use of any medicine – conventional or complementary. For us it’s a no-brainer that the routine use of medicines must not be a substitute for good animal husbandry.
Organic standards cover all aspects of animal health and welfare, including rearing, shelter, feeding, transportation and slaughter. We believe that ensuring good health is better than relying on drugs to treat disease, which is why we put so much emphasis on practices that encourage healthy farm animals. Organic farmers do this in many practical ways, such as keeping numbers down to reduce stress, providing appropriate nutritious feed and ensuring easy access to the outdoors. Organic animals cannot be given growth promoting hormones, regular doses of antibiotics or genetically modified (GM) feed.
Encouraging healthy farm animals can be supported by using complementary therapies – which include homeopathy – where these can be shown to be effective. Our standards don’t actually make particularly strong recommendations in favour of homeopathy, and we don't prefer it above any other complementary treatment - a 'should' in relation to control of orf in sheep is as strident as we get. And if the vet says an animal needs antibiotics or other medicines then they must be given. When this happens organic standards require a set period of time has to pass before the animal can produce products for sale as organic. These are generally three times as long as those required by law for non-organic food.
The important point is that we actively encourage each and every organic farm to create a model for optimum health and vitality, that sees disease as a reflection of something deeper in the system that needs correcting, and that uses conventional drugs only when genuinely needed. Some non-organic farmers, and those in the intensive farming industry, will be routinely using conventional medicine as a preventative measure. This means animals are given antibiotics on a regular basis whether they need them or not.
For all complementary therapies our standards specify that they are used: 'with professional veterinary guidance and provided that their healing effect works for the species and condition you are treating'. This affords farmers and their professional advisors the freedom to make choices for the animals under their responsibility, with the risk that they might lose organic status if we find that they have not met their overriding duty to ensure good animal welfare. We have much collective experience from farmers and vets that for many routine problems homoeopathic and herbal treatments work without any compromise to animal welfare - which is why some of our licensees continue to use them. However, some organic farmers don't use homeopathy at all. The choice of treatment is ultimately down to the expertise of individual livestock keepers and their veterinary advisors.
Overall though, the health and welfare of animals is central to Soil Association organic principles and this is supported by leading animal welfare charity Compassion in World Farming who believe that “Soil Association's welfare standards are leaders in the field”. Regardless of your views on homeopathy, if you are a meat eater who is concerned about animal welfare then you really can't do better then eating meat from organically raised animals.