New data released earlier this week (6th April), shows that organic livestock farms certified by the Soil Association have much lower antibiotic use than the average levels previously found in national monitoring of all UK livestock farming.
Campaigners are now calling for organic farming’s high husbandry standards to be recognised as a solution for lowering farm antibiotic use, and want to see higher health and welfare standards for all British livestock.
Higher welfare = lower antibiotic use
The new survey: Antibiotic use in organic farming lowering use through good husbandry - commissioned by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, found that overall antibiotic use per livestock unit by Soil Association certified farmers was four times lower than the national average.
The report also highlights:
- For dairy farms, antibiotic use was less than half the national average
- For beef farms, antibiotic use was less than a third of the national average
- For sheep farms, antibiotic use was less than a fifth of the level found in the most recent large survey of sheep farms
The survey included a smaller number of pig and poultry farms than for other species and found:
- For pig farms, antibiotic use was 75 times lower than the national average
- For chicken farms, antibiotic use was five times lower than the national average
“When we asked Soil Association farmers about how they minimised their antibiotic use they told us that husbandry was key”, said Ed Bailey of the George Farm Vets practice, who carried out the survey.
“Among a range of factors, frequent responses were that it was important to have good hygiene, to keep animals outdoors as much as possible, to provide a low-stress environment and, in pig farming, to avoid early weaning. Many vets and farmers could learn from those farms with high welfare and low antibiotic use.”
More can still be achieved
The survey found some significant differences in antibiotic use in each species, indicating that there is still room for future reductions in use.
“British farmers have voluntarily cut their antibiotic use by nearly 50% in the last five years, which is very welcome, but these findings show that much lower use could still be achieved." said Cóilín Nunan, Science Advisor for The Alliance.
“Organic farming has stricter rules on antibiotics which do not permit routine use or preventative mass medication. If the government is serious about tackling the antibiotic-resistance crisis, it should immediately move to end these practices on all British livestock farms.”
Find out more
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, formed in 2009, campaigns for a UK ban on all routine use of antibiotics and all preventative use of antibiotics in groups of animals. We are a founding member of The Alliance along with the Soil Association and Sustain.
You can read the report here.