Senior medics call on Government to ban preventative antibiotic group treatments in farming

16 November 2018


Ten senior medics have today written to the UK Government calling on it to place public health at the heart of its farm antibiotic policies and to commit unequivocally to banning preventative antibiotic group treatments in livestock [1]. A short version of the letter was published in the Guardian newspaper.

Signatories to the letter include the Presidents or leading spokespeople of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal Society of Medicine and the Royal College of Physicians. Also included among the signatories are the Editors in Chief of leading medical scientific journals, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.

Coordinated by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, the letter comes just weeks after the European Parliament voted by over 97% for new legislation which will ban preventative antibiotic treatments of groups of farm animals in the EU in three years’ time [2]. 

The Government says it supports the legislation but has repeatedly refused to endorse any ban on group prevention in the UK and says it will work with stakeholders to agree how to implement the regulation in practice in the UK [3][4][5].

Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Advisor to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “If the government fails to implement a ban on group prevention, the UK will have some of the lowest regulatory standards in Europe and will be aligning itself with the US administration’s position, which is to strongly oppose the European ban [6]. This should raise alarm bells about the kind of post-Brexit trade deal the UK may agree with the US, where antibiotics are used in enormous quantities in livestock.”

According to new Alliance calculations, the use of antibiotics in US farming is six times higher per livestock unit than in the UK. Antibiotic use in US cattle is 13 times higher, six times higher for chickens and 2.5 times higher for pigs than in the UK [7].

Prof John Middleton, president of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “A future world where bugs are all resistant to antibiotics will return us to the dark days of ineffective healthcare and condemn many to early deaths. Animal health and human health must be equally protected to save our antibiotics – that is why we’re making this call on government.”

He added: “In the post-Brexit world, it will be even more vital that we increase our standards on antibiotics use by doctors and farmers, so that the UK is a world leader, saving our antibiotics to save lives in future.”

A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has forecast that unless action is taken to halt the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, 90,000 Britons and 1.4 million Europeans will die from antibiotic-resistant superbugs by 2050 [8]. Most resistance in human medicine comes from the medical use of antibiotics, but farm antibiotic use contributes significantly to the problem.

Farm antibiotic use has been cut significantly in the UK in recent years [9], but worldwide it is estimated that 66% of all antibiotics are used in livestock rather than in medicine [10].

Most farm antibiotic use occurs in intensive farming systems, where animals are kept in close confinement, and disease incidence is high [11][12]. According to the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency, there may be a need to phase out certain intensive farming systems where antibiotic use cannot be reduced sustainably [12].


For more information, contact
Cóilín Nunan -, 07422556772
or Clem Teagle – cteagle@soilassociation.org07703 835931

Notes to Editors

  • [1] Letter signatories:
    Dr Jonathan Leach, Joint Honorary Secretary of RCGP Council, Royal College General Practitioners
    Professor Andrew Goddard, President, Royal College of Physicians
    Professor Derek Alderson, President, Royal College of Surgeons
    Professor Sir Simon Wessely, Royal Society of Medicine
    Dr Fiona Godlee, Editor in Chief, The British Medical Journal
    Dr Richard Horton, Editor in Chief, The Lancet
    Professor John Middleton, President, Faculty of Public Health
    Professor Ashok Soni, President, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
    Professor David Galloway, President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
    Professor Russell Viner, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
    Guppi Bola, Director, Medact
    Cóilín Nunan, Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics



UK (2017)

US (2016)

Ratio US/UK

















All food animals




The Population Correction Unit is a unit introduced by the EU which measures the size of a livestock population.

UK data is taken from . US data is based on 588085.pdf with full calculations detailed in