Piglet on a factory farm

Why are we asking for more regulation on the use of antibiotics on farms



The use of antibiotics on farms poses a threat to both human and animal health, and the urgent need to end it has gained significant momentum in recent years.

It has been widely recognised that superbugs pose a substantial threat to both human and animal well-being. In January the Veterinary Medicines Directorate, the government body responsible for regulating antibiotic use in animals proposed to ban the routine use of antibiotics on farms but fell short of proposing the full set of regulations that would match the EU including a ban on group preventative use of antibiotics.

Here we explore the origins of superbugs, the detrimental consequences of routine preventative antibiotic use, and the need to protect both our health and the welfare of farmed animals.

A Natural Phenomenon Sped Up

Bacteria, by nature, possess varying degrees of resistance to antimicrobials. The advent of antibiotics has revolutionized human and animal medicine, saving countless lives. However, as these life-saving drugs are continuously used, bacteria come into contact with them, increasing the survival and breeding of resistant strains. Consequently, breeding, spreading, and the emergence of untreatable infections become more prevalent, reducing the effectiveness of antibiotics previously relied upon for our survival.

The Farming Industry's Role:

The use of antibiotics on farms dates back several decades, coinciding with the rise of intensive farming practices. In pursuit of higher profits and increased production, practices such as mutilations, confinement, and breeding for fast growth, larger litters, and higher milk yields have become commonplace.

Unfortunately, these methods subject animals to immense stress, pushing their bodies to their limits within confined spaces. Antibiotics, hailed as wonder drugs, were used to keep animals alive in these cruel conditions rather being used to treat sick animals, this inadvertently amplified the risk of antimicrobial-resistant (AMR) bacteria.

A group of mother pigs at feeding time. Production of animal feed is worsening the climate crisis.

Progress and Challenges

While the agriculture industry has made commendable progress in reducing antibiotic use on farms since 2014, with a decrease of approximately 55%, this improvement must be seen in the context of historically excessive usage. However, the quantity of antibiotics used is not the sole issue; the specific types of antibiotics utilized also play a crucial role.

The World Health Organisation has identified antibiotics that are critically important for human health, emphasising the need for responsible usage. Also the way in which antibiotics are used plays a role, right now low levels of antibiotics are routinely given to whole herds of animals to prevent illness rather than treating individual or groups of sick animals, this is overuse and the regular low level dosages increase the risks of AMR emerging and spreading.

Routine Preventative Use – why we need a ban

One concerning aspect of antibiotic administration in farming is routine preventative use. Low doses of antibiotics given to entire herds raise the risk of AMR developing. The latest figures show 75% of antibiotics sold for farm use in the UK are administered through feed and water, suggesting that they are likely being given to entire herds as a preventative measure. This routine use must be banned, holding the farming industry accountable to regulations that safeguard the longevity of antibiotic effectiveness while ensuring they raise welfare so this overuse is no longer needed.


An Urgent Issue

The urgency to address this issue cannot be overstated, as antibiotic-resistant infections claim the lives of over a million people worldwide each year. Shockingly, projections indicate that this number could skyrocket to 10 million annually by 2050, surpassing the devastating impact of even COVID-19. Moreover, we risk losing access to routine medical interventions we currently take for granted, such as organ transplants and life-improving surgeries. This silent pandemic demands immediate action.

Protecting Animal Welfare

It is crucial to recognise the animals enduring the conditions on intensive farms. These farms continue to operate due to the routine, low-level use of antibiotics aimed at preventing illness in these inhumane settings. By advocating for the end of routine antibiotic use, we not only safeguard our health but also prioritise the welfare of farmed animals.

The imperative to end routine preventative use of antibiotics on farms has never been more pressing. As the NHS takes significant strides to curb the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in human medicine, it is vital for the agriculture industry to follow suit. By adopting responsible antibiotic practices, we ensure the availability of these life-saving drugs for future generations.

We need your help to urgently end the use of antibiotics on farms

The routine use of antibiotics on farms are not just a threat to animals but to our health as well. It needs to stop as soon as possible.

Please sign this open letter to the government calling on a ban of the preventative use of antibiotics on farms. By taking action, you can help protect both our health and the welfare of farmed animals.

Sign the open letter

Antibiotic-resistant infections claim the lives of over a million people worldwide each year

High welfare pig farm, UK

Become part of the community

Join thousands of animal lovers fighting to protect wildlife and give farmed animals good lives. Sign up now for emails with ways you can help.

Sign up now
More about