The work package LIVESTOCK from OrganicPlus European Project is in charge of searching alternatives for antibiotics, antiparisitics, synthetic vitamins and bedding materials for organic production. However, where are we now with this contentious inputs in Europe? What think the farmers about this issues? Are they interested in trying this alternatives?

Although there is a European regulation that stablishes the rules for all countries in the European Union, have the farmers in each country the same perception on the relevance of this topics? To answer all these questions, we are conducting a survey study across several countries with an on-line questionnaire.

Organic Livestock Production in Europe: some numbers to understand its importance

The organic livestock sector in the European Union has been experiencing a fast growth in recent years. The last report released from the European Commission (2016) based on Eurostat database showed that the most important species reared organically, with the exception of poultry which is by far the greatest one, are sheep (42%) and cattle (34%), followed by pigs (9%) and goats (7%). Pigs showed the lowest shares probably due to the difficulties to obtain organic feeds (i.e. internal supply and organically certified external supply), and the resulting high price for consumers. Between 2007 and 2015, the greatest increase was observed  in the  poultry sector (+108%), partly to the high demand for eggs, followed by beef and dairy cattle (+58%), pigs (+46%), sheep (+35%) and goats (+15%) (Lernoud and Willer, 2017). Moreover, organic milk production has almost doubled since 2007, from 2.7 to 4.7 million metric tons (Lernoud and Willer, 2017). The document elaborated by the European Commission (2016) reported that the largest producers of organic cattle are Germany, France, Austria, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Italy, the Czech Republic and Spain. Moreover, Austria (171 000 heads), Germany (150 000 heads), the United Kingdom (127 000 heads) and France (113 000 heads) are the ones with the greatest number of organic dairy cows. Organic pig production is mainly in Denmark (260 510 heads), France (219 812 heads) and Germany (190 471 heads). The organic pig sector still holds a very minor share in the European pig market. Ovine organic production is mainly in the United Kingdom (868 554 heads), Italy (785 170 heads), Greece (609 616 heads), Spain (600 000 heads) and France (450 000 heads). Greek and Italian ovine production is oriented towards cheese manufacturing, while the United Kingdom and Spain are focused on meat production. Goat organic production is concentrated in Greece (344 479 heads), Italy (100 852 heads), France (72 542 heads) and Spain (69 448 heads). The organic poultry sector has registered a 14% yearly increase between 2005 and 2015 and is currently led by France with >13 million animals, of which about 30% are laying hens.

European Regulation for Organic Production: what it says about Organic Livestock Production?
Organic production and labelling of organic products in the European Union are regulated by the Regulation (EU) 2018/848 of May 30, 2018, and although the principles for organic farming seem easy to follow, the regulation is comprised of several exceptions since sometimes a compromise has to be taken to ensure animal health and welfare.

Regarding feeding, even though minerals, trace elements, vitamins or provitamins have to be of natural origin, products of non-natural origin can be used if no alternatives are available. Moreover, non-organic spices, herbs and molasses can be used when they are produced or prepared without chemical solvents and limited to 1% of the feed ration (annual percentage in feed dry matter).

Regarding health care, chemically synthesised allopathic veterinary medicinal products are prohibited for preventive treatment, along with substances to promote growth or production and hormones or similar to control reproduction; however, immunological veterinary medicinal products may be used. The first option for the veterinary treatment should be phytotherapeutic and homeopathic products, as well as minerals and nutritional additives allowed for organic production. However, when chemically synthesised allopathic medical products (including antibiotics) are prescribed, the withdrawal period should be twice of the withdrawal period adopted in conventional farming and at least 48 hours. Moreover, if an animal receives more than 3 courses of treatment with those chemically synthesised allopathic meds within 12 months, or more than 1 course if the productive lifecycle is <1 year, the treated animal (and their products) should undergo a conversion period in order to be considered organic again.

To help in fully achieve the principles of organic livestock farming, effective alternatives for the use of synthetic vitamins, anti-infective and immune-stimulators, and bedding materials have to be examined and developed.

The lack of the availability of statistical information about the use of synthetic vitamins, antibiotics, antiparasitics and conventional bedding materials (straw) supports the need for conducting a survey among organic livestock farmers to get a more accurate picture of the use of these contentious inputs in the organic livestock sector.

A Multi-Country Survey to focus our Research: Understanding Organic Livestock Farmers’ Reality and Needs
Questionnaires are one of the most used tools to collect epidemiological data. Due to reasons such as shorter delivery time, lower delivery cost, additional design options, and shorter data entry time, web surveys have gained popularity in the last years (Fan and Yan, 2010). However, web surveys critical point usually is Internet access (Fan and Yan, 2010). Although rural areas usually lag behind in digital access (Basu and Chakraborty, 2011), nowadays farms are more connected than ever before. Moreover, demographic data suggest that organic livestock farms tend to be managed by younger people and better educated rather than conventional ones (Rigby et al., 2001; European Commission, 2016), which could suggest a better access to the Internet. 

Therefore, an online questionnaire has been developed to collect information about farmers’ perception of current contentious issues in organic livestock farming, and the use of alternative allopathic products (vitamins, antibiotics and antiparasitics) and bedding materials across the European Union and bordering countries.

The questionnaire has been developed in English and translated into several languages to reach the maximum number of participants. We are collecting answers since 1st of November, and we expect to arrive to a representative number by the end of the year. We offer to all participants a Certificate of Collaboration with the study and the possibility to include the link of the farms in the Organic Plus project website ( because without their help this study could not be done.

So, if you are a farmer with livestock under organic, and you are reading this article, please complete our questionnaire at:


If you want to complete on a different language, please go and select the available language that better fits your needs. We really appreciate your participation.


Massimo De Marchi (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)
and Carmen L. Manuelian (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.)

Department of Agronomy, Food, Natural Resources, Animals and Environment (DAFNAE), University of Padova,
Viale dell’Università 16, 35020 Legnaro (PD), Italy