UK farmers should achieve 25% cut target, but husbandry improvements still needed

The government's new 5-year Action Plan sets a target for British farmers to reduce their antibiotic use by 25% between 2016 and 2020.

Experts are confident that farming will meet the target, particularly since antibiotic use in farm animals in 2017 was already about 15% lower than in 2016.

However, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics are concerned about how the current reductions are being achieved in practice.

Cóilín Nunan of the Alliance said:
"Farmers have been making good progress in cutting their antibiotic use, and are likely to reach the government's reduction target in advance of the 2020 deadline.

"The largest reductions have so far come in poultry and in pig production, where use was highest. Unfortunately, these reductions are not being achieved through major changes to husbandry and improvements to animal health and welfare.

"Partly the reductions are being achieved through more targeted use and by reducing or eliminating unnecessary routine use.

"But the poultry industry has also increased its already very large use of non-medically important antibiotics, which are not counted in the antibiotics usage figures because they are too toxic to be used in humans.

"Similarly, the pig industry is using massive quantities of zinc oxide in piglet feed, to control post-weaning diarrhoea.

"The use of zinc oxide is known to increase resistance to medically important antibiotics, and the EU is going to ban its use in pig feed in 2022 because it's environmentally damaging. There is also some evidence that the poultry industry's use of non-medically important antibiotics could be environmentally damaging and may even increase resistance to medically important antibiotics."

If you would like to take action to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming, you could write to your MP asking them to attend the report stage of the Agriculture Bill (expected end of Jan/February 2019) and put their names to amendments 43 and 44, which have been tabled by Caroline Lucas MP and Kerry McCarthy MP. These refer to public health and the reduction of antibiotic use in farming through improvements to animal health and welfare.