The government should make it illegal to feed livestock antibiotics on a preventative basis, according to the Soil Association, Sustain and Compassion in World Farming.

The three organisations, which campaign together as the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, have made the call in response to a report by 26 scientists, which calls for immediate action to deal with antibiotic resistance.

The report, Antibiotic resistance – the need for global solution (Lancet Infectious Diseases, 17 November), sets out a series of actions, including recommendations to help reduce antibiotics use in human medicine.

But it also includes suggestions such as including the phasing out of routine preventative use of antibiotics in livestock.

It says international organisations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) should provide a clear definition of “unnecessary routine prevention”.

Governments across the globe should then revise existing legislation or draft new legislation accordingly.

The report also calls for the “development of health-orientated systems for rearing of animals” which do not rely on high levels of antibiotic use.

The alliance said the government, by failing to act on the problem of antibiotic resistance, was prioritising commercial interests over animal and human health.

“The government and the UK Veterinary Medicines Directorate said earlier this year that they don’t approve of routine preventative use of antibiotics, but many antibiotics are still licensed for preventative use in herds or flocks of animals where no disease is present,” it said.

“It isn’t enough to disapprove of feeding groups of healthy animals antibiotics; the government must make it illegal.”

The call for a change to the rules came as Wales’ chief medical officer and chief veterinary officer used European Antibiotics Awareness Day (18 November) to urge medical and veterinary practitioners to keep up to date with the latest advice and best practice on antimicrobial prescribing.

The latest Veterinary Medicines Directorate report detailing antibiotic use in food producing animals, shows use has remained fairly stable over the past five years.  In 2012, 60g of active ingredient was sold for each tonne liveweight animal slaughtered, which was in line with previous year.

The use of antibiotics which are deemed critically important for humans has also remained stable, the report said.


More on this topic

Read more guidance about the use of antibiotics and other products on our Making Sense of Medicines page