The Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) welcomes the final report [1] and recommendations of the Antimicrobial Resistance Review Team, chaired by Lord Jim O’Neill. The report’s conclusions on the use of antibiotics on intensive livestock farms serve as a timely reminder of the many ways in which current food and farming systems are not serving the public interest.

Commenting on the report’s proposals for a tax on antibiotics and changes to farming systems to improve animal health, Patrick Holden, SFT chief executive said, “The challenge for farmers in the UK and globally, will be how to improve production systems and reduce the need for antibiotics, when ultra-low prices for livestock products are forcing many farmers out of business and encouraging those that remain to increase the scale and intensification of their businesses, the exact opposite of what is needed.

“The over-dependence on antibiotics is a symptom of farming systems which are no longer serving the public interest, but instead causing damage to the environment and public health.

“David Cameron was far-sighted in asking Lord O’Neill to undertake this review, but he needs to understand that the commercial realities of farming at the moment are increasing the pressure on farmers to use more, not less, antibiotics. The question for the Prime Minister is, therefore, how can the government incentivise farmers to improve their systems so they use less antibiotics?

“In response, the Government should bring together leading thinkers to find ways to make sustainable food and farming systems more profitable for producers and more affordable for consumers. Introducing a tax on antibiotics could be part of the solution, but only if the funds raised were recycled to help cover the costs farmers will incur in adapting their systems to reduce illness in their animals and the need for antibiotics”.


For further information, please contact: 

Patrick Holden, Chief Executive – 07774 846 858

Richard Young, Policy Director – 07919 194235


Notes for editors

[1] Tackling drug-resistant infections globally: final report and recommendations

[2] A 10% tax on farm antibiotics could raise £40-£50 million annually. The total value of antimicrobial sales in the UK is not publically available. However, NOAH (the National Office of Animal Health), which represents 90% of companies, states that annual sales of animal medicines by its members to September 2015 were worth £617 million. Veterinary surgeons generally add a mark up of 50%. A reasonable estimate is that at least half of the £617million will relate to sales of antimicrobials. Our estimate is based on adding a 10% tax to the retail value of antibiotics used on farms.

[3] The overall use of antibiotics on UK farms has remained high for many years, while the use of critically important antibiotics has increased considerably. Latest government figures show that overall farm antibiotic use per animal in the UK remains at a high level, the use of critically important antibiotics is at all time high levels with the use of fluoroquinolone and macrolide antibiotics still increasing. The use of antibiotics in cattle farming (predominantly dairying) increased by 25% between 2010 and 2014. See UK-VARSS 2014

[4] Patrick Holden will be meeting the Rt Hon Oliver Letwin MP, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, later today to discuss potential Government interventions to improve the sustainability and profitability of future food and farming systems.

[5] The SFT would also like to see:

    1. Future CAP support for farmers made conditional on minimal use of antibiotics. The introduction into Pillar 1 financial support for farmers of stronger criteria on the use of farm antibiotics would only impact directly on cattle, sheep and free-range pig and poultry systems, not intensive indoor pig and poultry production which account for approximately 90% of all farm antibiotic use. However, pig and poultry systems have indirect relationships with the farms from which livestock feed is produced and the land on which large quantities of effluent are spread.
    2. Tax breaks for those who invest money in sustainable farming systems
    3. A comprehensive review of food systems in relation to their current dependence on antibiotics, endocrine disrupting pesticides and nitrogen fertiliser, and their damaging effects on the atmosphere, soil, water, biodiversity and human health.
    4. A range of specific changes to the regulation of farm antibiotics:

i. The prohibition of all antibiotic use in healthy animals, except in relation to surgical or other medical intervention
ii. A ban on the use of the antibiotic colistin in farm animals
iii. A ban on the use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics in poultry production
iv. Restrictions on the use of 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporin antibiotics as intramammaries in dairy production
v. An end to the practice of feeding waste milk to calves when it contains high levels of antibiotic residues
vi. An end to the importation of apples and pears that have been sprayed with antibiotics
vii. An end to the use of antibiotics in horticulture
viii. A review of recently emerged evidence that the herbicides glyphosate, 2,4-D and dicamba contribute to the development of antibiotic resistance
xi. Guidance to farmers over the extent to which certain widely used biocides also select for antibiotic resistance
x. An end to the use of copper as a livestock feed additive due to its ability to select for antibiotic resistance

Photograph: Angela Rowell

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