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Zac Goldsmith calls for end to delay in banning overuse of antibiotics on farms

Sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals are reducing in the UK, but campaigners say further reductions and legislation are needed.

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Lord Goldsmith

The Government should stand up to “vested interests” and avoid any further delay in banning the overuse of antibiotics on farms, former environment minister Zac Goldsmith has suggested.

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics has accused the Government of a “lack of action” on legislating, which it says has left the UK as an outlier in western Europe.

The group – whose members come from across the EU in the medical, agricultural, environmental, consumer and animal welfare sectors – has accused the Government of “delaying”.

The use of antibiotics in intensive farming is contributing to antimicrobial resistance, a process where the medicines lose their effectiveness over time and which the World Health Organisation describes as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today”.

A minister from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said in January that it anticipated laying legislation on the issue this year, but campaigners are seeking to put pressure on the Government amid concerns that it has delayed its response to a consultation.

Lord Goldsmith has added his voice to the call for action, saying the “industrial use” of antibiotics used in intensive farming is being used “simply to keep animals alive in miserable conditions they couldn’t otherwise survive”.

He told the PA news agency: “It is hard to think of a more reckless and irresponsible policy and while other countries have taken the step of banning the routine use of antibiotics on farms, we have not, despite promising to do so for years.

“Future generations will be outraged that in our failure to stand up to vested interests and lobby groups today we robbed them of the most important medical advance our species has ever known.

“If people really understood the implications, they would simply be enraged. The Government must put the interests of its people first and legislate now.”

Coilin Nunan of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics said: “How many more years is Defra going to keep on delaying before it does its job?

“The Government says that using antibiotics routinely or to compensate for poor animal husbandry is unacceptable, but its lack of action means that the UK is now one of the only countries in western Europe where these misuses of antibiotics remain legal.

“Farmers and vets have already taken action to cut farm antibiotic use but much larger cuts are still needed and they are only likely to happen if the Government introduces new legislation.”

Mr Nunan told PA: “We need to know if there’s going to be legislation and when it’s going to happen.

“Next year there’s going to be a general election. What’s going to happen then? Are we actually going to not have this sorted out by then? So there is the potential for just further and further delays, which is of concern.”

He said it will be “pretty extraordinary failure” if the Government does not implement legislation to address the issue “having expressed so much concern over the years”.

The group says the use of antibiotics in intensive farming to prevent disease, which they say is used like an “insurance policy”, is contributing to the problem of antimicrobial resistance much more than organic and higher-welfare systems which only use the drugs “sparingly” when animals need it.

When asked by PA, Defra did not say if legislation will be laid this year.

A spokesperson for the Veterinary Medicines Directorates, an executive agency of Defra, said: “We do not support the routine use of antibiotics, particularly where they are used to compensate for inadequate farming practices.

“Significant progress has been made in this area, with sales of antibiotics for food-producing animals down by 59% since 2014; we want to continue this trend.

“We have considered the responses received to the consultation on the proposed changes to the veterinary medicines regulations and the Government response will be published shortly.”

National Farmers’ Union adviser and chairwoman of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance, Catherine McLaughlin, said earlier this month: “By only using antibiotics when truly needed, UK livestock keepers continue to play their role in tackling (antimicrobial resistance) and protecting the efficacy of these important medicines long into the future.”

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