Sustain Sustainable Farming Campaign Agroecology explainer

Overuse of farm antibiotics

The systematic overuse of antibiotics in human and animal medicine is undermining their ability to cure life-threatening infections in people, by creating an army of dangerous bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.

Medics and researchers predict that 10 million people a year could die from antibiotic resistant infections by 2050. Despite this, huge amounts of antibiotics continue to be used in farming. Farm animals account for almost two thirds of all antibiotics used in 26 European countries, and around 40% of all antibiotics used in the UK.

Livestock may even be given antibiotics classed as ‘critically important’ for people. The emergence of resistance to colistin - a ‘last-resort’ antibiotic for people - has shone the spotlight on how deeply dangerous our antibiotic addiction is. Human resistance to colistin has emerged from the overuse of the drug in farming, and represents a breach of our last line of defence against disease.

Systematic overuse of antibiotics in farming must stop. We are in danger of losing these remarkable assets, and with them the ability to protect our health. This is no longer a prediction for the future. If we are to save our antibiotics, we must act fast.

Sustain is part of a steering group, with Compassion in World Farming and the Soil Association, running the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics. It is time for urgent action on a scale appropriate to the magnitude of this crisis. Governments across the EU must ban the routine dosing of groups of healthy animals, and dramatically cut farm use of the ‘critically important’ drugs. The UK must now prepare to take ambitious unilateral action on this issue.

Please consider your organisation signing up in support of the campaign to end the profligate use of antibiotics in animal farming. Visit the website of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics to find out more.

Sustain wants to see reducing farm antibiotic use continue to be a priority for the UK’s farming policy. This could involve, for example:

  • Public subsidies being made available to help livestock farmers make the transition to higher welfare, low antibiotic methods of production that build better resistance to disease and reduce the need for antibiotics.
  • Public investment in research and development, as well as better data on farm antibiotic use – preferably differentiated also by farm system type and species to enable better analysis.
  • Championing high standards and ethical considerations in trade deals. We don’t want to see the relatively good progress made by British farmers being undercut by cheaper meat, dairy and eggs produced with profligate antibiotic use.

Sustainable Farming Campaign: Sustain encourages integration of sustainable food and farming into local, regional and national government policies.

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