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Government fails to deliver on farm antibiotic use commitment

News Section Icon Published 27/02/2024

Antibiotic pills

A new report from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics – of which we are a founding member – was launched yesterday (27th February) at an event in Parliament. The report titled How to End the Misuse of Antibiotics in Farming highlights the UK Government’s failure to deliver on its commitment to ban prophylactic antibiotic treatments for farmed animals – originally made by then-Defra Minister, The Rt Hon George Eustice MP in October 2018.

Disappointing proposals

After years of delays, the Government has finally produced proposals for new legislation on the use of antibiotics on farms but disappointingly, despite repeated pledges that it would align with the EU on this issue, these will be weaker than the European regulations that came into force in January 2022.

Cóilín Nunan, Policy and Science Manager at the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “Some proposed measures are welcome and long overdue. But the Government has deliberately weakened the legislation, in comparison to the EU’s, which will allow some poorly run farms to keep on feeding large groups of animals antibiotics, even when no disease is present.

“The Government insists that farmers should be allowed to feed groups of animals prophylactic antibiotics because some may still need to make improvements to their management practices to get disease problems under control. At the same time, it is saying that farmers cannot use antibiotics to compensate for poor farm management.

 “The Government’s position is inconsistent and raises serious questions about how seriously the legislation will be implemented in practice”.

Parliamentary event

The report was launched at an event in Parliament hosted by Natalie Bennett, Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle. Speakers at the event included NHS Intensive Care Consultant, Ron Daniels, Vet and animal husbandry expert, Ed Bailey and researcher at the Agriculture and Food Development Authority, Laura Boyle.

Speakers at Parliamentary event

During the event Dr Ron Daniels, Chief Executive of UK Sepsis Trust and Vice-President of Global Sepsis Alliance, emphasised the urgency for action on antibiotics: “Antimicrobial resistance isn't a perceived threat for the future, it is here now, it is here today, and it is affecting hundreds - if not thousands - of patients in our hospitals right now.”

New targets needed

Many farms have made progress on reducing antibiotic use meaning that UK farm antibiotic use has been cut by 59% over the past decade, but use per pig is still about twice as high as in France and Denmark, nearly three times as high as in the Netherlands, and over four times as high as in Sweden.

Cóilín continued: “The Government needs to set a new target to cut farm antibiotic use by 40% by 2030. Also, about 75% of UK farm antibiotic use is still for group treatments, so a target should be set to reduce this to less than 30% by 2030.

“Stronger action on antibiotic use and improvements to animal husbandry could deliver major reductions in farm antibiotic use and contribute to tackling the antibiotic-resistance crisis.”

Unacceptable antibiotic use

The Alliance’s report argues that many intensive farming methods are putting animals under excessive stress, causing poor health and leading to unacceptable antibiotic use. The report recommends:

  • Practices such as tail docking of piglets, or the use of farrowing crates, which are used to cage sows from a few days before they give birth until their piglets are weaned, should be phased out.
  • Space allowances for all animals housed indoors should be increased, and enrichment such as straw bedding provided.
  • Farmed animals should not be genetically selected for excessively high productivity – such as for high milk yield in dairy cows – as this is often linked with increased health problems.
  • Animals should be allowed access to the outdoors as the available data suggests this reduces the need for antibiotics.

Find out more about the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics.


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