An alarming new study reveals the true price of ‘Antibiotic Addiction’ in farming. Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics explains what it means for us all.

Single cow grazing in a field

The recent discovery of antibiotic resistant E.coli bugs on UK meat is the latest development in a crisis which is steadily unfolding before us.

The study, commissioned by the ALLIANCE TO SAVE OUR ANTIBIOTICS and carried out by scientists from the University of Cambridge, tested 189 samples of UK-origin pork and chicken meat from the seven largest supermarkets from across the UK.

The results are highly concerning. E.coli bacteria, which is resistant to multiple crucial antibiotics, was found on pork and chicken meat from all supermarkets. Soaring levels of antibiotic resistance was discovered in E.coli on chicken meat, with 24% of chicken samples testing positive for ESBL E. coli, a type of E.coli resistant to a family of antibiotics classed as ‘critically important’ for people.

Group of cows grazing in a field Wide Shot

High levels of resistance to two other key antibiotics for treating serious urinary-tract infections in people – gentamicin and trimethoprim – were found in E.coli on pork and chicken samples.

These findings provide further evidence that the OVERUSE OF ANTIBIOTICS IN FARMING IS UNDERMINING THE EFFICACY OF ANTIBIOTICS USED IN HUMAN MEDICINE, and shines the spotlight on the urgent need to address our antibiotic addiction.

Vast quantities of antibiotics are used globally in livestock farming. In the UK, around 40% of all antibiotics are used in farm animals. In human medicine, antibiotics are used to cure the sick. In non-organic farming however it is currently legal within the EU to routinely mass-medicate groups of animals for preventative measures, even when no disease is present in ANY of the livestock. This is particularly common in the pig and poultry sectors, where animals are often kept in indoor, intensive systems where disease outbreaks are more common and infection spreads quickly.

Group of cows grazing in a field

Group of cows grazing in a field

Antibiotics have long served as the cornerstone in a farming system, which has been pulled out of balance. But after decades of antibiotic abuse, bacteria are starting to fight back.

It’s time to take action, and call on our government to ban the routine, preventative use of antibiotics in all farming practices. The big supermarkets can help greatly by encouraging and supporting their suppliers to eradicate their reliance on antibiotics and learn from UK organic and higher welfare farming systems – which use antibiotics sparingly – and prove that this is possible.

Antibiotic resistance in both farming and human health is widely recognised as being one of the greatest threats to humanity in the 21st century. This has come from a reckless disregard for how bacteria mutate and develop resistance when not used appropriately and with restraint. Roughly half of antibiotics used in the world are given to livestock. The routine use of drugs, antibiotics and wormers is banned in organic farming – instead we use preventative methods, like moving animals to fresh pasture and keeping smaller herd and flock sizes.