Soil Association standards prohibit the routine use of drugs. However, if an animal on a Soil Association certified farm falls ill then it may be given a course of antibiotics. If this occurs, the withdrawal period (the time between the animal getting the drugs and their meat or milk going on sale) is at least three times longer than the statutory non-organic period. This ensures drug-free meat and milk. In addition, the EU regulation defining organic production states that an organic animal can only receive a maximum of three complete courses of antibiotics in one year before losing its organic status.
It is argued by some that organic producers could be tempted to withhold veterinary treatment because of the extended withdrawal period after treatment before the animal can be sold as organic, or because of the EU limit on three courses of antibiotics in a year. This has not generally been the experience of Soil Association Certification Ltd, for three fundamental reasons:
* Firstly, most organic stock farmers care passionately about the welfare of their animals.
* Secondly, it makes little long-term agronomic sense, as an organic farmer needs to maintain the positive health status of all his or her animals.
* Finally, if Soil Association Certification detects that a producer has withheld treatment the consequences are much more serious (and could even lead to decertification) than would be the case for a non-organic farmer withholding treatment.
If certification were withdrawn the costs could be higher still, including the possible repayment of government organic conversion payments. Consequently, there is a real financial incentive for organic farmers to ensure that all livestock are treated promptly and appropriately.