Royal Society of Medicine event reveals new antibiotic concern from US farming imports

Royal Society of Medicine event reveals new antibiotic concern from US farming imports


Farms in the US use on average five times more antibiotics than are used on UK farms, it was revealed today at an event hosted by the Royal Society of Medicine. Speakers at the event, co-hosted by campaigning group the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, praised efforts by UK farmers in recent years to reduce their antibiotic use, but warned that cheaper meat imports after Brexit could pose a health risk to the UK public.

A new investigation by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics has found that US antibiotic use in beef production is 9-16 times higher per livestock unit than UK beef production, three times higher for chickens and twice as high for pigs. [1] The Alliance’s Scientific Adviser Cóilín Nunan said: “The EU has a ban on the importation of US beef, due to the use of growth hormones in the cattle in the US. However, post-Brexit, there exists the possibility that the UK will allow US beef to be imported as part of a trade deal with the US. These findings raise further concerns about the ways in which US beef is produced, and the potential dangers it may pose to consumers.”

Experts in the field of antimicrobial resistance and farming debated what the level of threat to human health may be from farm antibiotic use in the UK.

The diminishing availability of antibiotics for serious infections – and a lack of new antibiotics being discovered over the past couple of decades – poses a “huge global challenge” said Dr Gauri Godbole, Consultant Microbiologist for Public Health England. The government-commissioned Review on Antimicrobial Resistance predicts that by 2050, if business as usual continues, antibiotic resistance will kill 10 million people a year worldwide and cost the global economy $100 trillion [2].

More positively a number of speakers, including those from the British Veterinary Association and Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) noted that overall levels of farm antibiotic use in the UK have dropped by 27% over the past two years, and use of critically important antibiotics now accounts for 1% of total use.

Globally, scientists estimate that 73% of all antibiotics are used in farm animals, and they forecast use will increase by a further 53% by 2030 if the number of farm animals continues to grow and farming becomes more intensive [3]. Different farming practices may be having an influence on the levels of antibiotics being used. Helen Browning, Chief Executive at the Soil Association, commented: “It goes without saying that sick animals must be treated, and antibiotics are a critical tool in the armoury of livestock farmers, but the problem lies with routine dosing of healthy animals on a purely preventative basis. This is totally incompatible with efforts to tackle the problem of resistance. Ultimately, as farmers, we need to reduce the need for antibiotics in the first place: fundamental practices such as good hygiene, husbandry and housing can all help to achieve that and must be prioritised.”

A recent report by the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has estimated global farm antibiotic use by continent [4] and found use by animal weight about 20% lower in Africa than in Europe. However, in the Americas it was about 80% higher than in Europe, and in Asia Pacific about 190% higher than in Europe, although only five countries reported data from Asia Pacific. Gwyn Jones, Chairman of RUMA, speaking about the positive progress already made in the UK, highlighted the need for a national database to allow farmers to benchmark their own antibiotic use against that of the rest of the industry, a call that was unanimously supported by other speakers.


Notes to editors

Event details:

‘Antibiotics in agriculture: is there a threat to public health and how is British farming responding?’

Thursday 8 February 2018, Royal Society of Medicine

Hosted by RSM in collaboration with the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics

For media enquiries please contact:
Suzi Shingler, Campaign Manager, Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics
Tel: 0791 758 5807



[1] For full details of the Alliance calculations see

The calculations are based primarily on new species data published by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate and the US’s Food and Drug Administration, supplemented by some recent data published by some British supermarkets.


[3] Van Boeckel et al. 2017. Reducing antimicrobial use in food animals, Science, [4] [5]