The use of antibiotics on farms in the US and Canada is about five times that of the UK, the report says
Antibiotic overuse in livestock is widespread in some of the key post-Brexit countries with which the UK is looking to sign a post-Brexit trade deal, a new report shows, and fears that future deals will put public health and agriculture at risk will.
In the United States, Australia, New Zealand and Canada, farmers can regularly feed antibiotics to livestock to help them grow faster. In the US and Canada, the use of antibiotics on farms is about five times what the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics shows in the UK.
Meat made this way is cheaper because the animals grow faster and can be kept in crowded conditions. For safety and health reasons, however, the meat will soon be banned in the EU.
According to the report, antibiotic use in cattle in the US is about seven times that in the UK and twice as much in pigs. In Australia, antibiotic use is more than 16 times higher in poultry than in the UK and around three times higher in pigs.
Antibiotic use on farms has increased in recent years in the US, Canada and New Zealand, and it increased in Australia in 2010, the last year for which full data were available. Some of the drugs used are also problematic: the growth promoter bacitracin is used in the United States, despite scientific evidence that it increases resistance to a last resort antibiotic called colistin, which is used to treat life-threatening infections in humans.
Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Advisor to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “Antibiotic resistance is a global problem and we must raise standards around the world to prevent it from increasing. These free trade agreements must take this into account. ”
Excessive use of antibiotics in farm animals leads to resistant forms of bacteria called superbugs, which can have devastating consequences for human health. Meat infected with resistant bacteria can directly cause infections in humans and also contribute to a more general increase in humans’ resistance to antibiotic treatments.
British farmers also face the prospect of being undercut by imports of cheaply produced, antibiotic treated meat, which could lower welfare standards in the UK as farmers will be forced to store their animals more densely to cut costs and with floods to compete with cheap imports.
« British manufacturers will be forced to compete by cutting costs, which means more animals in worse conditions, which means an increase in the use of antibiotics, » said Nunan. “New trade deals must not undermine UK standards and endanger public health by allowing cheap meat and dairy products made with antibiotic growth promoters to enter the UK. ”
Medical experts are increasingly concerned about the rapid rise in antibiotic resistance around the world, which could leave us defenseless against common diseases and make routine surgeries like caesarean sections or hip replacements potentially fatal. Antibiotics are used far more in animals than in humans around the world, but measures to curb their use have been rejected by the powerful agricultural lobbies in many countries.
The use of antibiotics is more strictly controlled in the EU than elsewhere, and the use of the drugs as growth promoters has been banned since 2006. In the UK, agricultural antibiotic use has largely declined to around half its 2014 levels over the past half decade, although there was a slight increase over the past year.
In just over a year from January 2022, stricter EU rules will ban the import of meat routinely treated with antibiotics as growth promoters and ban all preventive bulk antibiotic drugs from farm animals. The UK is unlikely to agree to this ban.
The government has repeatedly stated that chlorinated chicken and hormone-treated beef will continue to be banned from the UK after Brexit, following widespread food standards concerns in future trade deals. However, food and agriculture experts have indicated that this still leaves the door open to hundreds of other forms of food and agricultural products currently restricted by EU safety rules, and that many of these processes are tacitly without legal authorization under current procedures could be signed public scrutiny.
Nunan called the upcoming EU rules « a big step forward » and urged ministers to adopt them in the UK. “The UK government should commit to implementing the same ban [on preventive mass drugs] as relying on voluntary action is not a sustainable approach in the long run. It should also ensure that trade deals set high standards for imports to protect human health and avoid falling below UK standards. ”
A government spokesman said: « This government knew that we would not compromise on our world-leading environmental, animal welfare and food standards.
“The UK is already banning the use of artificial growth hormones in both domestic production and imported products – and it will remain so after the transition period. We will continue to carry out strict controls on medicines that can be used on all animals, including those producing food, in order to protect human and animal health and the environment. ”
Antibiotics, antibiotic resistance, global health
World news – AU – Data on antibiotics in farm animals arouse trade fears after Brexit
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