No Yeo Valley

My brother recently sent me some interesting correspondence he’d had with Yeo Valley reps, due to stumbling across this fairly shocking content on their website:

the routine use of antibiotics as a preventative measure to treat our cows’ ailments is not permitted.

Well yes, good, but…

As a result of this Steve, the Herd Manager on one of our farms began investigating alternative options to the use of antibiotics and began studying a course on homeopathic treatments. Since then, Steve has been implementing what he has learnt by using homeopathic treatments and remedies to treat his cows for a number of issues, including warding-off flies and easing the cows’ stress levels when having their feet clipped.

The treatments have so far proved successful and, unlike with antibiotics, cows don’t build up immunity to these remedies. In fact, they encourage the cows’ immune systems to fight bugs themselves.The use of homeopathic treatments not only helps to develop a more robust immune system, it also means no withdrawal periods for milk and meat while the animal is being treated, as would be the case when antibiotics are used.

Argh. Seriously?! What a load of tosh.

So, ma bro sends them an e-mail.

Homeopathy huh – won’t be buying anymore of your products then if you believe in treatments with no scientific proof. What other woo might you be trying I wonder.

A little terse, but hey. They did reply, beginning with:

Thank you for your recent email, we always appreciate hearing from our consumers. We are always pleased to get feedback and thank you very much for your comments.

Sadly they went on to copy-paste from their website the chunk I’ve quoted above, followed with some more from the website:

However, this doesn’t mean we completely avoid more conventional treatments; if we need to treat an animal quickly and effectively we will always choose the treatment, either conventional or alternative, that will be most beneficial to the cow to aid its recovery and this may involve antibiotic use.

Oh good! That’s a relief.

Steve’s convinced that homeopathic treatments offer a viable, practical option so he continues to favour treating his herd homeopathically whenever appropriate. I shall pass your email along to the farm and they will contact you in due course if interested. 

Is he now. Sounds like he needs reporting to the appropriate welfare board to me.

I would like to reassure you that we operate the highest level of animal welfare standards on all of our farms.  Not only are we strong supporters of the welfare system developed by The Soil Association for cattle producing organic milk, we also take care of the environment in which we operate and act responsibly and ethically in how we do business. Organics standards strictly admonish zero grazing techniques; cows cannot be permanently housed, but must spend the majority of their lives outdoors. The cows must have appropriate bedding and adequate space when they are brought indoors during bad weather during the winter months.

All very reassuring yes indeed, thanks.

Being an independent, family owned British business, we value our reputation and the loyalty of every one of our customers who buy our products.  We have built our reputation on a combination of quality and word of mouth and would never knowingly do anything to jeopardise this.

Thank you once again for writing to us.

Kind Regards

Sally Laurie – Marketing Team

Unfortunately (for the company; fortunately more generally) plenty of people are well aware that homeopathy is bunk, it has no effect, being just water/sugar, and using it instead of actual treatments is simply irresponsible. Even if it is used in addition to proper treatment when required, this is still unnecessary, a complete waste of money and possibly traumatic for the animals depending on how it’s administered.

Interestingly, Zeno also contacted them back in January and received a very similar response from ‘Sally’.

Disappointing that a company claiming to value its customers’ views cannot answer such questions more effectively, but hopefully in time and with enough pressure, such ridiculous ideas will no longer be entertained and people won’t be employed to peddle such nonsense.

Edit: see also this correspondence between some of the Brighton Skeptics and the Soil Association regarding their use and support for woo in farming.

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17 Responses to “No Yeo Valley”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    A very interesting article, but I would say that you are confusing the use of ‘woo’ and the need for antibiotics which they say is used where necessary, I would not think that antibiotics would be used to keep flies away or reduce stress levels as mentioned? I personally think the alternative approach MAY do, if they think it works, is that not good reason? it is the same as the spat between Simon Singh and the Chiropractic Association, does he believe that it is ALL bogus? ie that it is not effective treatment for say back pain, or just that it will not cure un-related issues such as asthma etc.

    • Anonymous Says:

      Sorry, I have just read your piece on the definition of homeopathy, and I too am confusing this with herbal medicine. so are Yeo valley confusing the two as well?

  2. Shona Says:

    Of useless homeopathy and uneeded prophylactic antibiotics, I actually think homeopathy is the lesser of two evils. Afterall, the overuse of antibiotics in animals has very likely already cost us in precious immunity, whereas we don’t know that the farmer is doing any harm with his treatments.
    Presumably, and hopefully, he has enough brains to know if anything is seriously wrong and refer to a vet. For minor complaints it must be pretty difficult to rationally treat a patient who can’t give you a consultation.

    • Andy Lewis Says:

      I worry that if someone believes homeopathy can ever be justified as a treatment for animals they most definitely do not have the brains “to know if anything is seriously wrong and refer to a vet.” The other worry is that homeopaths view conventional medicine as harmful – they use the word ‘complementary’ merely a sop.

      Yeo Valley, if they are to be an ethical company, need to make a commitment to base their animal welfare practices on the best available evidence. Of course, they can still minimise the use of antibiotics and try to take other progressive farming actions, but to follow the irrational and anti-intellectual dogma of the ‘organic’ marketing lobby means they elevate obvious claptrap over animal welfare.

  3. Nobody Says:

    My god, what levels of homeopathic remedy might be making it into our food chain! I’m sure if we raise public awareness of this terrible threat, someone from YeoValley will then have to declare there’s bugger all in it and they are talking out of their bottoms, in a press release.

  4. Anonymous Says:

    Aha! Now we know why noone who eats yoghurt winces when cutting their ytoe nails!

  5. Cathie George Says:

    Cynicism surrounding homeopathy is common amongst those who either haven’t tried it or don’t want to believe it can work. I’ve been using homeopathy for years, my 10yr old daughter has never had anti-biotics and is in extremely good health. Whether it is a case of wishful thinking, something that many people assume it is, or there is truly power in the way homeopathy works, is a matter of opinion. I for one am pleased to hear that Yeo Valley don’t pump their animals with anti-biotics needlessly. It is reassuring to know that their products are as natural as they claim them to be and that I can consume them knowing that I am not inadvertently taking unwanted, second hand anti-biotics. I believe there is always more than one option and if homeopathy offers that alternative.

  6. Andy O Says:

    @Cathie – Cynicism is common in science. If you’re not a cynic, you’re not a scientist. Homeopathy isn’t scientific, and doesn’t do anything that can’t already be explained through the placebo effect. Nobody has ever demonstrated that water has a memory or whatever. Its great that Yeo Valley use natural products, but the fact that they publicly support homeopathy gives it credence that it doesn’t deserve.

  7. MovingEquus Says:

    Read this post with much interest… I believe you are right about them avoiding the use of proper anti-biotics, it’s not right to use home remedies…

  8. Oli Says:

    The use of homeopathy as an alternative to conventional medicine in animals is totally irresponsible.

    They mention at the start that the routine use of antibiotics as a preventative measure is not allowed, but how often are antibiotics prescribed to cattle for this? I know practise today is very different to how it was decades ago when such a thing might have been routine. For example, I’ve seen people claim that their organic meat isn’t treated with growth hormones. That’s all well and good, but growth hormones have been outlawed in the EU for a long time. A lot of this stuff just strikes me as marketing bollocks, really.

  9. Oliver Dowding Says:

    I don’t find the content shocking, or that Yeo Valley use homoeopathy successfully. The shock is to people like Andy Lewis, and many others on here, who can’t get their head round the fact that it works, because they can’t accept that something that can’t be given an explanation in today’s terms might work, even though we don’t know how it works.

    What none of you perhaps realise is that every herd is subjected to animal welfare obligations, frequent intervention by conventional veterinary surgeons and more. If they saw anything that was compromising animal welfare, rest assured they be down on the farm are like a ton of bricks.

    Andy O says “Homeopathy isn’t scientific, and doesn’t do anything that can’t already be explained through the placebo effect. Nobody has ever demonstrated that water has a memory or whatever. Its great that Yeo Valley use natural products, but the fact that they publicly support homeopathy gives it credence that it doesn’t deserve.” Sorry to disappoint, but it is scientific. It’s just that it doesn’t meet the criteria that you think something has to adhere to in order to be considered scientific. Somebody in response this will undoubtedly ask where the replicated trials are. Because of the very individual nature of assessment and remedy selection, they are very difficult to undertake in the animal world, as well as the human world. For example, referring to antibiotics, the majority of farmers are using just one type of antibiotic to treat all types of mastitis. Farmers using homoeopathy will be probably using 6 or 7 different remedies, because all types of mastitis are not the same.

    Perhaps the best bit is that the animals we’re treating don’t know they’re being treated. They don’t lie, deceive, or use smart words to try and weasel out of something. They simply respond. However, in case somebody is naive enough to think that using water would produce the same result, I invite them to go find a farmer who is prepared to do that. Nobody would be so silly, causing an animal welfare problem immediately. I’m aware that the use of homoeopathy is uncomfortable for some people, because it goes against their conventional way of thinking, and their acceptance of how science is in their mind. We’re just fortunate that some people are prepared to go beyond the conventional, and assess different ways of doing things that will give us the science of tomorrow. Just imagine what would have happened if the first people who came up with some of today’s conventionally accepted medical practices had been prepared to give in when the first person told them they were idiots.

    Take, for example, the work of Barry Marshall. But one time people didn’t believe that stomach ulcers were caused by a bug, which he subsequently proved to be Helicobacter pylori. Nobody was prepared to accept his wild theory until then, subjecting millions to constant drug intake, massive dietary restrictions, and more. He used a brew of the bugs on himself, got the worst possible stomach ulcers, treated himself with the simplest antibiotic, problems solved. A new discovery made, convention turned on its head etc. And, yes, antibiotics to the rescue, which nobody who supports homoeopathy is denigrating, just saying that there is an alternative way that can be used in many situations. Here are the links to the interview with him and his Wikipedia page. http://bbc.in/aCKnYR http://bit.ly/14S28

    I’m sure you’ll be pleased to know that the organisation training farmers and others in the use of homoeopathy were placed third in the Farmers Weekly magazines “livestock adviser of the year” category in last year’s competition. That’s a good accolade from a very conventional magazine, largely in existence courtesy of the sponsorship through advertising of the large pharmaceutical, chemical, machinery and fertiliser companies.

  10. Emma Geraln Says:

    Sometimes I feel like I’m surrounded by idiots… I don’t think I can say anything more constructive so I’ll shut up :)

  11. Andy Lewis Says:

    It is a pity to see Oliver Dowding coming back with the same old zombie arguments. They have been refuted a thousand times, but somehow still manage to stagger around.

    I would hope Dowding would read my response careful and take on board not repeat things that are demonstrably not true,

    No-one says that if you do not have an explanation for something then it cannot work. What critics of homeopathy say is that the mechanism of homeopathy is not unknown, but its claims directly contradicted thoroughly established facts about physics, chemistry and biology. Homeopathy is not ‘unknown’ but thoroughly implausible.

    We also recognize that farmers are subjected to many animal welfare obligations. The real people at fault here are the British Veterinary Association who allow a very small number of deluded vets to wander around and tell deluded farmers it is OK to treat animals with magic water drops. This is a simple dereliction of their responsibilities to their members and to animals.

    Homeopathy is not scientific. It is based on mediaeval pre-scientific ideas of contagion and sympathetic magic. It bears the same relation to science as astrology does to astronomy. Oliver may wish to change the definition of science to accommodate his beliefs – but that is transparent Humpty-Dumptyism.

    And here is the central thing that Oliver stubbornly fails to get – the placebo effect, if it works at all, is not something to necessarily be going on in the heads of animals – but most certainly will be going on the heads of herdsmen who want to believe their magic water drops are working. For Oliver to proclaim that ‘it works for my animals’ merely opens himself up to the straightforward charge that he is fooling himself and his desire to see homeopathy work is overriding his fundamental duty to ensure his animals are adequately cared for.

    The lack of humility amongst homeopaths is shown by their refusal to accept any evidence that may interfere with their herished beliefs. That is what makes them dangerous – and why Noodlemaz is quite right to challenge Yeo Valley over what is a straightforward abrogation of their responsibility to the animals they use to make their profit.

  12. Paul Says:

    It’s really quite disturbing to see Oliver Dowding trying to compare the use of homeopathy with real scientific discoveries such as the unravelling of the H. Pylori peptic ulcer mystery. The latter is a classical example of scientific endeavour revealing the mechanism of a previously-unexplained disease, the former is an example of scientific endeavour repeatedly demonstrating that something (homeopathy) simply doesn’t work. Homeopaths have been trying to prove benefit for years, but are yet to carry out a trial of adequate scientific rigour that shows such benefit.
    I’m afraid it’s another classical example of a “bait and switch” tactic combined with an appeal to popularity by using marketing techniques such
    as “organic” and “natural” which – of course – have zero benefit for consumers, both in terms of health and cost. Not using antibiotics for “prophylaxis” in farming is to be encouraged, but using homeopathy instead of real medicines is delusional at best, animal cruelty at worst.

  13. Soil Association – bad science for animals and families | Berkshire Skeptics Society Says:

    [...] Last year, Tim the Lapsed Pagan alerted me to the Soil Association’s support for Yeo Valley’s use of veterniary homeopathy. [...]


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