THE SOIL Association is calling for a review of the government‘s strategy to curb the use of antibiotics in farm animal production.

The call comes after the publication of the latest annual figures which show a rise for the second year running.

A 33% rise in the use of growth-promoting antibiotics in 2003 is of particular concern, the SA said.

It pointed out that only three drugs (avilamycin, flavomycin and monensin) remain licensed for growth promotion, but their use increased from 27 tonnes in 2002 to 36 tonnes in 2003.

The government began developing a strategy to reduce the use of antibiotics and other similar drugs on farms in 1999, due to concerns about the spread of antibiotic-resistant bacteria from farm animals to people and the sharp decline in the development of new antibiotics.

The strategy is heavily reliant on a voluntary industry initiative – the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance.

Richard Young, policy advisor to the Soil Association said the new figures reveal that the government‘s strategy to reduce the use of antimicrobials in farm animals is not working.

“We want to see an urgent review and believe it is not good enough to leave such an important issue to industry initiatives and market forces.”

“All that the RUMA has done is condone the excessive way in which the industry has used antibiotics for decades.

“Most farmers are responsible in the way they use antibiotics, but the intensive production systems they are locked into are the real cause of the problem.”

“We need a more hands-on approach from government if we are ever going to make progress,” Mr Young said.

In 1999 the combined total use of antibiotic growth promoters and therapeutic antibiotics in food producing animals was 410 tonnes. By 2003 this had risen to 439 tonnes.

During the same period the total weight of animals slaughtered for meat production fell from 5.756 million tonnes to 5.294 million tonnes, making intensive farming less efficient in the use of antibiotics now than it was in 1999, the SA pointed out.