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UK Government fails to ban routine farm antibiotic use

News Section Icon Published 20/11/2023

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Marking World Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Awareness week (18th – 24th November), the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics – of which we are a founding member – is calling on the UK Government to deliver on its commitments and prohibit routinely feeding antibiotics to animals and end the use of antibiotics to control diseases caused by inadequate animal husbandry and poor hygiene.

Falling behind the EU

The Government has been promising new regulations for over five years but has failed to act. This means that the UK has fallen behind the European Union, where these practices were banned in January 2022.

The EU rules on the use of farm antibiotics – which include a ban on using antibiotics preventatively on a whole herd or flock basis – were decided in 2018, when the UK was still a member of the EU. Both the UK and the EU agreed that much stricter rules on farm antibiotic use were needed to help tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis, which threatens to undermine much of modern medicine.

The systematic overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining the world’s ability to cure life-threatening infections in people, by greatly increasing the spread of bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics. Scientists predict that 10 million people a year could die from antibiotic resistant infections by 2050.

What are we waiting for?

In October 2018, the then-Defra Minister, The Rt Hon George Eustice MP, said in Parliament: “The UK Government plans to implement the restrictions on preventative use of antibiotics in line with the EU proposals”. In 2019, the Government’s AMR National Action Plan on antimicrobial resistance again committed to taking action. And two years later, in June 2021, the then-Defra Minister The Rt Hon Victoria Prentis MP said that the Government was going to introduce provisions “similar to those in the EU”, subject to a public consultation.

In February of this year, the Government finally launched a consultation. Disappointingly, the consultation suggests that any legislation to address this issue will not include a ban on preventative group treatments, as previously promised, but would include some significant restrictions on routine use and on using antibiotics to compensate for bad husbandry.

In June, the Government announced it was going to delay its response to the consultation until September. However, deadline has been given for when a response will be published, or new legislation will come into force.

New legislation needed - now

Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Advisor for the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “How many more years is Defra going to keep on delaying before it does its job? The Government says that using antibiotics routinely or to compensate for poor animal husbandry is unacceptable, but its lack of action means that the UK is now one of the only countries in Western Europe where these misuses of antibiotics remain legal. Farmers and vets have already taken action to cut farm antibiotic use, but much larger cuts are still needed, and they are only likely to happen if the Government introduces new legislation.”

Find out more about the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics.


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