News / Good Food Trade Campaign

UK falls behind the EU on farm antibiotic standards

Whilst farmers on the continent will no longer be allowed to give preventative group antibiotic treatments or use antibiotics to mask poor living conditions, this will remain legal in the UK. The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics says this threatens to undermine recent improvements in the UK and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance.

Indoor Pigs. Credit: Alliance to Save our Antibiotics

Indoor Pigs. Credit: Alliance to Save our Antibiotics

The UK now has weaker farm antibiotic regulations than the EU. New legislation in the EU has banned all forms of routine antibiotic use for farm animals. They have also banned imports of meat, dairy, fish and eggs that have been produced using antibiotics to stimulate rapid growth in the animals.

Antibiotic resistance is increasing at a faster rate than previously realised and, as reported in The Lancet, in 2019 it was directly responsible for the deaths of more than one and a quarter million people worldwide and linked with the deaths of nearly five million people. The overuse of antibiotics in humans and farm animals is to blame for this crisis. Worldwide about two thirds of antibiotics are used in livestock.

The new EU legislation was agreed in 2018, and since then the UK government has repeatedly said that it largely supported the new regulations and would introduce similar laws here. However, over three years later the government has still not published its own legislative proposals for ending excessive farm antibiotic use. This leaves the UK exposed and means that rules here are weaker. It remains legal in the UK to:

•    give antibiotics to farm animals routinely, rather than when they are sick or have an infection
•    give preventative group treatments to farm animals
•    give antibiotics to farm animals to compensate for inadequate welfare standards, lack of care or poor hygiene
•    import animal foods produced with antibiotic growth promoters

Campaigners are calling for the UK government to honour its repeated commitments and the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (ASOA) has written to Environment Secretary George Eustice MP urging the government to act swiftly to improve the UK’s farm antibiotic laws in line with the EU.

Cóilín Nunan ASOA Scientific Advisor said: “British farmers have voluntarily reduced their antibiotic use by 50% in recent years. But much larger cuts can still be achieved if the government introduces new laws ending preventative antibiotic group treatments and increasing minimum animal health and welfare standards. On the other hand, if the government pursues a trade policy which cuts tariffs on the importation of meat and dairy produced with extremely high antibiotic use, including the use of antibiotic growth promoters, then in order to compete British farmers could be compelled to reduce their own animal health and welfare standards and increase their use of antibiotics.”


Published 28 Jan 2022

Good Food Trade Campaign: Campaigning for good trade that benefits people and the planet at home and overseas.

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