New regulations for animal husbandry on organic farms

Grünlandfläche im Hintergrund eine liegende Kuh
Photo: BMLRT

Organic production is constantly undergoing change. New challenges also reflect new regulations for whose implementation organic farmers need first-hand Information.

In 2019 a quarter of Austria’s agriculturally utilised area was already managed according to organic farming principles. One in five farms produces organic food in compliance with the EU-wide production requirements.

The EU’s Common Agricultural Policy makes an important contribution through compensation payments and EU regulation of production, processing, marketing, control, and imports of organic food and feedingstuff.

The new Regulation No 848/2018 on organic production and labelling of organic products (entry into force presumably in 2022) will bring about some change for organic farmers:

Challenges for organic production as from 2020

In 2017, the European Commission examined the implementation of the applicable EU-Eco-regulation 834/2007 in Austria; in this context, some deficiencies were identified in the Austrian interpretation of the Eco-regulation (see below).

The Federal Ministry of Social Affairs, Health, Care and Consumer Protection (BMSGPK) and the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Regions and Tourism (BMLRT) in cooperation with the farmers’ representations of interest (chambers of agriculture and organic associations) worked committedly to revise the existing interpretations concerning the EU-Eco-regulation in order to allow practical solutions for organic farming together with the European Commission.

Opinion of the European Commission

The criticism voiced by the European Commission relates in particular to interventions (dehorning), tethering, grazing for herbivores, and open-air areas of stables: The Austrian rules in these fields do not meet the regulations of the EU-Eco-regulation, the Commission says.

To implement the European requirements in accordance with EU law, adjustments are therefore required.

Austria expects to receive the Opinion of the European Commission on the present proposals for amendment in July/August. 

Adaptations of the following areas:

Grazing of herbivores (cattle, sheep, goats and horses): In 2020 each organic farm must keep at least one RLU (roughage eating livestock unit) per hectare of pasturable area or at least fifty percent of the RLU in the vegetation period on pastures, whenever circumstances (soil, climate) so permit. Furthermore, based on the analysis of the as-is situation on the farm (“self-evaluation”) a grazing plan for the farm has to be prepared for 2021 and grazing has to be documented.

For the performance of interventions in farm animals, such as the destroying of the horn system of calves less than six weeks old, the need for the individual holding must be explained and the approval of the competent authority has to be obtained. For other interventions, like the dehorning of calves more than 6 weeks old, approvals for the individual animal are needed. Relevant forms for the application of exceptional approvals as from 2020 are available here.

As from 2020, the open-air area for calves, lambs and kids must no longer be 100 percent roofed. In general, the extent of roofing is not yet clear for the individual farm animal species.

Details on the modifications as from 2020 (a transitional year) and frequently asked questions have been summarised in an updated collection of questions and answers (FAQ) and are available in the download area.

The regulations concerning maximum permissible roofing of the run-out area and the obligation of grazing as from 2021 are discussed and will be voted on by the European Commission.

Make use of advisory services and information

The organic farms concerned can make use of extensive advisory services offered by the Chambers of Agriculture. The additional costs of the obligatory grazing can in some cases be cushioned by the ÖPUL measure ‘Animal welfare - Pasture/Grazing of livestock’.