Brexit Can’t be an Excuse for Britain to Endanger Antibiotics Supplies

Reports say that the UK may use Brexit as an excuse to ignore EU rules on the rationing of antibiotics.

The Guardian has learned that a top government body in charge of overseeing veterinary medical practices in the UK has indicated that the British government will give the farming sector exceptions to new EU directives restricting the use of antibiotics.

The Guardian details, “At an event this summer held by the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD), which regulates farm antibiotics, the VMD’s director of operations, Paul Green, said the UK would implement the new EU regulations ‘as fully as we see fit … there may be some clauses we wish to omit [or] alter.’”

The Guardian reports that the VMD director went on to say that the government would allow exceptions, so that farmers can continue to mix antibiotics in feed and drinking water as a method of disease prevention.

For health and farming campaigners this news is deeply concerning.

In the Summer of 2018 the Council of the European Union and the European Parliament agreed to further criteria built on their 2017 plan on curbing antibiotics resistance.

At the time, MEPs and EU officials praised the informal but highly regarded agreement as a much-needed step not just for farming, but for medicine as a whole.

“This is a major step forward for public health”, rapporteur Françoise Grossetęte (EPP, FR) said in a press release.

“Indeed, beyond farmers or animal owners, the use of veterinary medicines concerns us all, because it has a direct impact on our environment and our food, in short, on our health,”  she added. “Thanks to this law, we will be able to reduce the consumption of antibiotics on livestock farms, an important source of resistance that is then transmitted to humans. Antibiotic resistance is a real sword of Damocles, threatening to send our health care system back to the Middle Ages.”

The European Parliament highlighted this update to existing policies mid-September in a report backing a nearly total ban on farm antibiotics except in circumstances where animals are actually sick. The report further said that some antibiotics would have to be seriously restricted in order to preserve their abilities to fight harmful infections in humans.

The new restrictions are expected to be implemented by late 2021 or early the following year.

Previous data demonstrates that between 2010 and 2030, global consumption of antibiotics in farming will increase by roughly 67 percent. The vast majority of antibiotics are not used in human health care or even in day-to-day animal care, but rather to prop up animals in deeply inhumane factory farming conditions. They are also used for the highly dubious practice of accelerating growth in animals intended for slaughter. The EU is seeking to expressly forbid that practice not just in domestic farm animals, but also in imported animal meats.

The government has reportedly denied claims that exceptions will be granted to EU policy and, indeed, touts itself as a world leader on animal welfare and sustainable farming practices. However, the Guardian’s assertions have been corroborated by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a member of whom was at the July event. They reportedly asked Green about the practice of mixing antibiotics with animal feed and were told that, yes, the Government would continue that practice. This puts the UK at direct odds with the EU directives.

The VMD’s director of operations was reportedly pressed by the Alliance on the UK’s compliance with EU regulations, to which Green allegedly claimed that the wording of the EU directives are ambiguous, saying that antibiotics use could be extended to multiple animals at a given time. This, essentially, would continue the practice of medicating vast groups of animals as a means of preventative medicine, rather than treating animals on an individual, case-by-case basis.

If this is truly government policy, it is at direct odds with the stated intent of the European regulations, which explicitly say, “Metaphylactic use (i.e. treating a group of animals when one shows signs of infection) should happen only where no appropriate alternative exists, and after diagnosis and justification from a veterinarian.”

There is very little ambiguity to that statement.

As the UK teeters on the edge of a so-called “No-Deal Brexit” it is a deeply worrying sign that one of the key issues that will shape British farming policy in the years to come is being so poorly considered. It is obvious that the farming sector cannot continue to use antibiotics in the way it has been, something that European member states are not radical in saying. Indeed, study after study shows that antimicrobial resistance is growing every day, and a major driver of that is antibiotics misuse in farming.

If this is any indication of what the UK is to become after Brexit, it is a disturbing precedent that puts profits ahead of people’s health and their lives.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.


John W
John W8 days ago


Greta L
Greta L27 days ago

thank you for sharing

David C
David C1 months ago


Chad Anderson
Chad A2 months ago

Thank you.

hELEN h2 months ago


Camilla Vaga
Camilla V2 months ago


Carole R
Carole R2 months ago


Peggy B
Peggy B2 months ago


Alea C
Alea C2 months ago

When the world goes vegan, these animals won't need antibiotics as no one will be eating them. Cruelty begins on your plate.

RK R2 months ago

Thank you UK for being a lab.