Antibiotics in Farming: prescription for change

By Ylva Johannesson and Hannah Crump, SRA Senior Account Managers


In September last year, we published a blog by Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics about the need for foodservice businesses to implement a policy to address the responsible use of antibiotics in their supply chains. Since then, antimicrobial resistance (AMR) (where bacteria in humans, food and animals show resistance to antibiotics) has become an even hotter topic in the media, and is now on the top of the political agenda, both nationally and internationally. This is an issue that is not going away and requires action.

Last week, the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics and Medact hosted a conference, bringing together all major stakeholders to explore practical steps to reduce antibiotic use in farm animals.

Peter Melchett, Policy Director of the Soil Association, opened the conference by highlighting the stark reality of the current situation – that antimicrobial resistance poses a very serious risk to both human and animal health. Unless urgent action is taken, a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries can be fatal, is a very real possibility for the 21st century.

This message was echoed by John Blackwell from the British Veterinary Association and Cóilín Nunan from Alliance to Save our Antibiotics. Referencing a recent report by EFSA (European Food Safety Authority) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), Cóilín highlighted the lack of action to date from both industry and some EU governments. More importantly, the threat is not just confined to Europe. With food imports from outside the EU on the rise, supply chains are getting longer and more complex. This is a global problem that requires a global solution, he said

The global love affair with meat, and chicken in particular, is only helping to fuel the problem, Tara Garnett, of the Food Climate Research Network told the conference. Overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming systems is directly related to a rapid increase in meat consumption, particularly in Brazil and China. Farming has become more productive due to use of antibiotics, but to what price? Intensive farming may deliver lower GHG emissions, but what about animal welfare?

Good practice

Sweden has adopted a successful partnership approach, where veterinarians, farmers and governmental bodies cooperate and work together to improve animal husbandry and promote responsible use of antibiotics in farm animals, resulting in incidences of resistant bacteria being among the lowest in Europe.

Helen Browning, Chief Executive of the Soil Association, drew on her experience running the organically certified Eastbrook Farm in Wiltshire, where animals are treated to good husbandry and live lives with little stress, requiring virtually no antibiotic use at all.

In the UK, The British Veterinary Association have a 7 point plan and a number of other useful resources.

Emphasis was put on building alliances between different sectors, such as the ‘One Health Initiative’ – a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans, animals and the environment.


AMR is a global problem, which requires a global solution. With food imports on the increase, we are all affected by practices in countries across the globe – no one is immune.  We would echo Peter Melchett’s closing call to action for major restaurant chains to put pressure on their supply chains to use antibiotics responsibly. Read our factsheet, and we would encourage anyone looking to address this urgent issue to contact Emma Rose from Alliance to Save our Antibiotics [email protected]

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