The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is pleased to see cross-party concern being expressed about the need to reduce farm antibiotic use in order to protect human health in a Parliamentary debate on Wednesday 18 January.
During the debate, The Minister for Food, Farming and Fisheries, Mark Spencer MP, said the government would introduce proposals “to stop the use of antibiotics to prevent disease in animals in all but exceptional cases, where the risks to animal health are high and the consequences likely to be severe”. In the Alliance’s view, this would be a welcome step forward for antibiotic regulation in the UK, but it does not go far enough.
Unfortunately the government did not commit to ending all forms of routine antibiotic use and preventative group treatments, as was done in the European Union in January 2022. EU legislation does permit exceptional preventative use in individual animals, where the risks to animal health are high and the consequences are likely to be severe, so it is unclear why the UK has not aligned with this legislation, particularly since it previously said in Parliament that it would do so.
The debate was called by Virendra Sharma MP (Labour) who emphasised the need to improve animal husbandry. He called for an end to animal overcrowding, routine mutilations such as tail docking and teeth clipping, and the early weaning of piglets, He said that unsanitary and stressful conditions for farm animals contribute to higher levels of disease and antibiotic use. He highlighted the government’s earlier failures to act on preventative farm antibiotic use and to carry out a public consultation on new veterinary medicine regulations.
Steve Bonnar MP (SNP) said that trade deals with countries with higher antibiotic use than UK could undermine UK standards and he said the UK had fallen behind the EU in vital areas because of it had not kept up with EU legislation on farm antibiotic use.
The Minister said that a consultation on the Veterinary Medicines Directorate’s proposed changes to the Veterinary Medicines Regulations would soon be published and would contain proposals to restrict preventative use. He said UK legislation would bear “bear similarities to recently updated EU legislation on veterinary medicines”.