Approved Health Care and Medication Regulations for Organic Dairy and Livestock in the United States

eOrganic author:

Jim Riddle, University of Minnesota

Organic animal husbandry is based on preventative care. Organic producers are requred to establish and maintain preventive livestock health care practices, including:

  • Selection of species and types of livestock which are well suited to site-specific conditions and resistant to prevalent diseases and parasites;
  • Provision of a nutritional feed ration, which includes sufficient vitamins, minerals, protein and/or amino acids, fatty acids, energy sources, and fiber (ruminants);
  • Establishment of appropriate housing, pasture conditions, and sanitation practices to minimize the occurrence and spread of diseases and parasites;
  • Provision of conditions which allow for exercise, freedom of movement, and reduction of stress appropriate to the species;
  • Performance of physical alterations as needed to promote the animal's welfare and in a manner that minimizes pain and stress; and
  • Administration of vaccines and other veterinary biologics.

When preventive practices and veterinary biologics are inadequate to prevent sickness, a producer may administer synthetic medications, provided that such medications are allowed under §205.603 (NOP National List). Use of these medications may have specific withdrawal or "veterinarian prescription only" restrictions, and use of these medications without following the specific restrictions can result in loss of certification.

Section 205.238 requires that an organic livestock operation must not sell, label, or represent as organic any animal or edible product derived from any animal treated with antibiotics, any substance that contains a synthetic substance not allowed under §205.603, or any substance that contains a non-synthetic substance prohibited in §205.604.

Organic livestock producers are prohibited from withholding medical treatment from a sick animal in an effort to preserve its organic status. All appropriate medications must be used to restore an animal to health when methods acceptable to organic production fail. Livestock treated with a prohibited substance must be clearly identified and must not be sold, labeled, or represented as organically produced.

Section 205.238 also prohibits the use of:

  • animal drugs, other than vaccines and other biologics, in the absence of illness;
  • hormones for growth promotion;
  • synthetic parasiticides on a routine basis;
  • parasiticides for slaughter stock; or
  • the use of animal drugs in violation of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Synthetic Substances Allowed for Use in Organic Livestock Production in the U.S. contains the entire Section 205.603 of the National List, as published in the Federal Register on May 29, 2012. Examples of allowed synthetic substances include ethanol and isopropanol as disinfectants, aspirin, atropine, butorphanal, flunixin, furosemide, magnesium hydroxide, vaccines and biologics, poloxalene, tolazoline, xylazine, chlorhexidine for surgical procedures and as a teat dip, chlorine materials and peroxyacetic/peracetic acid as sanitizers, electrolytes, glucose, glycerine in teat dips, hydrogen peroxide, iodine, magnesium sulfate, oxytocin for emergency therapeutic use, ivermectin, phosphoric acid to clean equipment, copper sulfate, lidocaine, hydrated lime, mineral oil, procaine, excipients in livestock drugs, and EPA List 4 inert ingredients.

As stated, many of the substances listed above contain restrictions on their use or must be followed by extended withholding times. Check the restrictions or annotations that accompany the substance, as stated on the National List, before use. Make sure that the substance is listed on your Organic System Plan and keep records of all uses. If you have any doubts about the status of a particular brand or formulated product, check with your certifier before use.

"Excipients" are defined as "any ingredients that are intentionally added to livestock medications but do not exert therapeutic or diagnostic effects at the intended dosage, although they may act to improve product delivery (e.g., enhancing absorption or controlling release of the drug substance). Examples of such ingredients include fillers, extenders, diluents, wetting agents, solvents, emulsifiers, preservatives, flavors, absorption enhancers, sustained-release matrices, and coloring agents" (USDA, 2000).

Please note that excipients are now allowed in medications given to organic animals, but only when the excipient is identified by the FDA as Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS), approved by the FDA as a food additive, or included in the FDA review and approval of a New Animal Drug Application or New Drug Application.

Section 205.604 contains a short list of natural substances that are prohibited in organic livestock production. The only item presently on the list is strychnine.

References and Citations


Published January 21, 2009

This is an eOrganic article and was reviewed for compliance with National Organic Program regulations by members of the eOrganic community. Always check with your organic certification agency before adopting new practices or using new materials. For more information, refer to eOrganic's articles on organic certification.