Alliance sends letter to Eustice highlighting fears over high levels of antibiotics in US farming

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics has sent a public letter to George Eustice MP, Minister of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, highlighting fears about antibiotic use in US farming. 

During last week's Defra Oral Questions session in Parliament, Eustice made reference to a recent meeting between Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and England's Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, at which Eustice suggested antibiotic use in farming was discussed. The Alliance has written to Eustice to find out more about this meeting. The letter reads: 

Dear Minister,

At the most recent Defra oral questions (7th June), an important question was asked by Kerry McCarthy MP regarding agricultural use of antibiotics, and it was very encouraging to hear in your response that the Secretary of State has recently met with the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Sally Davies, to discuss this issue.

We are writing to you on behalf of the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics to ask what the Secretary of State had the opportunity to discuss with the CMO, and in particular whether the outcome of his discussion will allay widely held fears about the import of meat from the US which has been produced with an average of five times as much antibiotic treatment as used in UK livestock production.1

Figures published at a Royal Society of Medicine conference in February this year show that antibiotic use in the US is a staggering 9 to 16 times higher per livestock unit for beef cattle, three times higher for chickens, twice as high for pigs and five times higher for turkeys than it is in the UK.

We are concerned that future trade deals may serve to undermine the good work done by UK farmers in recent years to reduce the amount of antibiotics we use in UK livestock production. We are sure you will agree that the global threat of antibiotic resistance is of grave concern, and increased trading with nations such as the US, where agricultural antibiotic use is at extraordinarily high levels, would be totally unacceptable to medical opinion and the British public. In light of the disastrous public health consequences of such profligate use of these vital medicines, the issue warrants more concern than the much-talked about use of chlorine to wash chicken, or the high levels of growth hormones in US cattle. Both of these are very serious human health and animal welfare issues, but neither pose the same level of threat to the future of human medicine as we see in US livestock farming’s over-use of antibiotics.

The Chief Medical Officer has regularly and publicly warned about the rising global threat of antibiotic resistance, and this must translate into precautionary trade deals that are realistic about the threat posed by supporting and importing meat which ignores the severity of the risk posed by antibiotic resistance.

We would be grateful if you could tell us what advice the Chief Medical Officer gave on this, and how future trade deals will be sure not to encourage or endorse abuse of antibiotics in farming.

Yours sincerely,

Dr Nick Palmer, Peter Melchett, Kath Dalmeny, Suzi Shingler
The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics.