News Save Our Antibiotics

New law banning antibiotics in farming does not go far enough, says Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics

A new law coming into force today will ban the use of prophylactic use of antibiotics, but the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics warns this law contains serious weaknesses and loopholes.

Pigs. Credit: Matthia Zomer | Pexels

Pigs. Credit: Matthia Zomer | Pexels

A new law banning the routine use of antibiotics on farm animals and prohibiting their use as a way ‘to compensate for poor hygiene, inadequate animal husbandry, or poor farm management practices’ comes into effect today. However, the rules are weaker than similar legislation introduced in the European Union in January 2022. The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, of which Sustain is a member, has warned of loopholes and weaknesses in the legislation and how it is interpreted may allow the overuse of antibiotics on farms to continue.

Unlike the EU, the government has refused to ban the practice of feeding prophylactic or preventative antibiotics to groups of animals where no animals have been diagnosed as sick. In 2018, the government stated in Parliament that it intended to implement the EU’s restrictions on prophylactic use, but it never put forward any plans to do so.

Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics said:

“Some of the new rules on farm antibiotic use are welcome and long overdue. Unfortunately, the government has deliberately weakened the legislation, in comparison to the EU’s, and this will allow some poorly run farms to keep on feeding large groups of animals antibiotics, even when no disease is present. We are also concerned the ban on using antibiotics to compensate for inadequate animal husbandry and poor farm management practices may not be properly implemented.”

Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists, Professor Roberto La Ragione, Head of the School of Biosciences at the University of Surrey, said:

“Antibiotics are critical to human and animal medicine, but the emergence of resistance is a global concern. Therefore, we must reduce their use to help stop the emergence and spread of resistance. We know that animal health and welfare are inextricably linked to our own, so it is vital that antibiotic resistance is tackled in humans and animals, and we can all play a part, from the scientific community to pet owners, vets, doctors, pharmacists, companies, farmers, and the government.”

In response to the new legislation, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is calling on the government to:
•    Ban group prophylaxis with antibiotics.
•    Introduce mandatory antibiotic-use data collection.
•    Set new, more ambitious targets for reducing farm antibiotic use. About 75% of UK farm antibiotic use is still for group treatments. Targets should be set to reduce group treatments to less than 30% by 2030. A target should be set to cut farm antibiotic use by 40% by 2030.
•    Major improvements to minimum husbandry standards are needed to reduce the need for antibiotics, including reduction in stocking densities, using appropriate breeds, improvements to diets and a shift to later weaning of piglets.


New legislation falling short on promises

Statements being made by the government and regulators already raise serious questions about how well the legislation will be implemented in practice.

The government’s regulator, the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), has said that group prophylactic treatments should be allowed because some farms would need to make “improvements to farm infrastructure and management practices” to reduce or eliminate disease, and this can take time. This suggests that in practice the VMD will allow some farmers to continue using antibiotics to compensate for poor farm management practices, despite the legislation explicitly banning such use.

The new regulations say that prophylactic treatments will only be permitted “in exceptional circumstances where the risk of an infection or of an infectious disease is very high and where the consequences of not prescribing the product are likely to be severe”. This is a welcome restriction, based on an equivalent EU law.

However, when asked by Daniel Zeichner MP, the Shadow Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, to clarify what is meant by “exceptional” use, Sir Mark Spencer MP, the Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, said prophylactic use “would be permitted only where there would be a risk of infection or severe consequences if antibiotics were not applied”. 

This suggests that prophylactic use could still occur quite frequently, since when animals are kept in highly intensive conditions, there is often a significant risk of infection. If the risk of disease occurring in intensive farming is viewed as being an exceptional circumstance, then prophylactic antibiotic use could effectively continue as before. 


Mandatory antibiotic-use data collection is needed

The government has also decided against introducing mandatory antibiotic-use data collection, preferring to rely on data collected voluntarily by industry. Therefore, most UK dairy, beef and sheep farms are not currently submitting any data to industry systems. 
 In contrast, the EU began collecting mandatory antibiotic-use data for pigs, poultry and cattle last year, and will publish the first EU-wide report with the results next year. 

Cóilín Nunan said:

“Not introducing statutory antibiotic-use data collection is irresponsible and hard to understand. Accurate, reliable data is needed for every farm, as this helps minimise misuse and identify and promote best practice. The UK will now be lagging behind most of Europe when it comes to understanding how and why antibiotics are used on its farms.”


Published Friday 17 May 2024

Save Our Antibiotics: The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is a coalition of health, medical, environmental and animal welfare groups campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming.

Latest related news

Support our charity

Donate to enhance the health and welfare of people, animals and the planet.


The Green House
244-254 Cambridge Heath Road
London E2 9DA

020 3559 6777

Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

© Sustain 2024
Registered charity (no. 1018643)
Data privacy & cookies