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Reduce antibiotics to protect public health

Reduce antibiotic use in farming

To round off World Antibiotic Awareness Week in November, the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics have produced a report calling for Government to protect public health and take a stronger stance against using antibiotics too much on farms.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which are all in trade negotiations with the UK, allow farmers to give antibiotics to livestock to make them grow faster. This practice has been illegal across the EU since 2006.

In 2022, the EU will ban imports of meat and dairy produced in this way, but the UK government hasn’t yet committed to implementing the ban. As part of the Alliance, which includes 65 members, we are calling on the UK Government to do this now.

The US, Australia, New Zealand and Canada also allow an antibiotic to be added to hormone growth-promoting implants given to cattle, to prevent infections at the implant site.

The most widely used antibiotic in these hormone implants is tylosin, which is classified by the WHO as a "critically important" antibiotics in human medicine, as it is part of the treatment of serious Campylobacter infections in humans.

Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Adviser, Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “Any new trade deals must not undermine British standards and threaten public health by allowing cheap meat and dairy produced with antibiotic growth promoters into the UK.

It’s also particularly unacceptable that a high-priority critically important antibiotic is being used to control infections caused hormone growth promotion.”

If more cheap meat is imported from these countries, UK farmers may come under commercial pressure and be tempted to increase their own antibiotic use in an attempt to cut costs. The full report is available on the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics website.

Follow the link to find out more about antibiotic use in farming and how the Soil Association is trying to reduce use.

If you are able to, please support us by becoming a member today and help us continue our work in this area and ensure that UK farming standards don’t suffer post-Brexit. 

Top findings of the report:  

  • Antibiotic use per animal is about five times higher in the US and Canada compared with the UK, with use in US cattle being about seven times higher.
  • Antibiotic use per animal in Australian poultry is over 16 times higher than in the UK while in Australian pigs it is nearly three times higher, although use in Australian cattle and sheep appears to be low.
  • Most antibiotics used for growth promotion in these four countries are not used in human medicine. But one growth promoter used in the US, bacitracin, is classified as medically important by the World Health Organization (WHO). There is scientific evidence that the use of bacitracin in livestock may increase levels of resistance to an antibiotic of last resort, called colistin, which is used to treat life-threatening infections in humans which do not respond other drugs.
  • The US uses the antibiotic growth promoter carbadox in pigs, a drug which is completely banned in Europe because it has been shown to be carcinogenic in some animals. US authorities are currently considering banning carbadox.
  • Several antibiotics used as growth promoters in the US, Australia and New Zealand are no longer permitted to be used in British or European livestock in any form.
  • British farm antibiotic use fell by about 50% between 2014 and 2018, partly due to a variety of voluntary industry initiatives. Unfortunately, recently published data for 2019 showed a 5% increase in use. European farm antibiotic use fell by 3% in 2018 and by 35% between 2011 and 2018.
  • In the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, farm antibiotic use has increased according to the most recent data for each country.