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Common sense makes best sense

Good husbandry is still the best trick in the book: Common sense is the best tool for organic farmers.

Clear and uniform laws, guidelines, rules and regulations are not the only things that are needed to ensure the well-being of organic farm animals. Just as important is the ability of the individual farmer to spot if his animals are thriving or not and that the rules for organic farming take local conditions into consideration.

- Actually, farm animal health and welfare are not necessarily better on organic farms than on conventional farms, says senior scientist Mette Vaarst from the Department of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition at the Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Aarhus.

Mette Vaarst is the coordinator of a large EU-project, SAFO, which aims to ensure animal health and food safety in organic farming. She bases her statements on conclusions from the project.

One of the conclusions is that animal health and welfare on organic farms is, generally speaking, neither better nor worse than on conventional farms. There are bigger differences between individual farms than between the two different types of farming.

- It is more important to focus on management at farm level than on overall rules. Rules for organic farming are not like a recipe in a cookbook that everyone can follow in the exact same way and obtain the exact same results. Instead the concept of organic farming must be worked through on each individual farm. A good place to start is with formulation of goals regarding animal welfare and health, Mette Vaarst points out.

Just as important as awareness of the fact that each farmer has individual needs, abilities and challenges, is realization that you cannot make uniform rules for all of the EU. It is necessary to take local conditions into consideration.

- EU is a broad concept with regard to outdoor conditions for animals. For example, it is not a good idea to have rules stating that animals should spend all their time outdoors if local conditions offer sizzling sun and burned-off grass. Neither is it reasonable to require animals to be outdoors all day in the middle of a winter with blizzards and ice-cold winds, says Mette Vaarst.

The scientists in SAFO also found that even though a lot of knowledge exists in the area of organic farming, there are not enough advisers. There should also be a greater effort in the area of breeding in order to develop breeds that are particularly suited to organic farming conditions.

SAFO’s recommendations to EU here and now are that the present rules for organic farming be adapted so that it becomes possible to prepare health plans at farm level and so it becomes possible to take better account of local conditions . Seven of the participating countries are now investigating how to a) draw up a health plan, b) which measurable animal parameters can be included to this end, and c) how best to educate organic farmers.

- Sometimes we get so technical and focus only on technical solutions. Basically what it’s really all about is keeping an eye on your animals and having basic husbandry skills, says Mette Vaarst.

SAFO: ”Sustaining Animal Health and Food Safety and in Organic Farming”

- SAFO is an EU-project that aims to improve animal welfare and food safety in organic farming.

- There are 26 partners from 20 countries participating in the project.

- The Faculty of Agricultural Sciences at the University of Aarhus is coordinator of the project.

- The project has been appointed as a ”particularly successful project” by the EU-commission.

For more information please contact senior scientist Mette Vaarst, Department of Animal Health, Welfare and Nutrition, Faculty of Agricultural Sciences, University of Aarhus, telephone: +45 8999 1344, e-mail: [email protected]

Wednesday 09 May 2007 | Communication Unit