UK farmers still overusing antibiotics and legislation is needed to stop it

NEWS AND COMMENT: Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park, has claimed that UK farmers are irresponsibly and recklessly overusing antibiotics where this extravagant use of a precious drug remains legal because UK ministers have failed to stand up to vested interests by which he means farmers’ lobbying groups pressurising the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to drag its feet in protecting the future use of antibiotics.

Antibiotics overused on UK farms. Image: MikeB using Canva.

Their overuse undermines their effectiveness and is therefore highly irresponsible.

It’s about antimicrobial resistance which is an incredibly important factor in world health both for people and animals. The World Health Organisation has described this phenomenon as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today.”

Lord Goldsmith, a former Tory minister for animal welfare, has chipped in saying that there is an industrial use of antibiotics in intensive farming to keep abused livestock alive “in miserable conditions” where they “couldn’t otherwise survive”.

He added: “It is hard to think of a more reckless and irresponsible policy – while other countries have taken the step of banning the routine use of antibiotics on farms, we have not, despite promising to do so for years. Future generations will be outraged that in our failure to stand up to vested interests and lobby groups we robbed them of the most important medical advance our species has ever known. If people really understood the implications, they would simply be enraged. The government must put the interests of its people first and legislate now.”

A scientific adviser to the Alliance to Save Antibiotics, Coilin Nunan, said: “How many more years is Defra going to keep on delaying before it does its job? 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. Next year there’s going to be a general election. What’s going to happen then? Are we actually going to not have this sorted out by then?”

Defra has declined to comment on whether legislation will be coming out by the end of the year. But they did state that they don’t support the routine use of antibiotics especially where “they are used to compensate for inadequate farming practices”. Adding that “Significant progress has been made in this area, with sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals down by 59% since 2014; we want to continue this trend. We have considered the responses received to [a] consultation on the proposed changes to the veterinary medicines regulations and the government response will be published shortly.”

It appears that UK farmers are well known for overuse of antibiotics and in the past, there have been instances of severe overuse. My research indicates that in 2017 the Responsible Use of Medicines and Agricultural Alliance set industry targets to reduce antibiotic use on farms. And there have been UK government regulations implemented to control the use which include stricter prescribing practices and mandatory record-keeping.

The situation varies between farms.

On a linked but separate topic, it’s been found that antibiotics find their way into rivers, polluting waterways as is the case in parts of India.

Antibiotics in rivers
Antibiotics in rivers. Photo: New Indian Express.
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Post Category: Farming > intensive farming