The UK Gets a Stark Warning About American Meat Imports

The UK is currently embroiled in lengthy negotiations with Europe regarding Brexit. Understandably, the UK seeks to make trade deals, now turning its sights to American meat imports.

But food safety and public health watchdogs have sounded the alarm that any such trade deal shouldn’t erode the UK’s high safety standards. In particular, many express concerns about widespread antibiotics use in animal agriculture.

And if new research is anything to go by, those concerns are well founded.

The U.S. Food Industry Is Using Antibiotics at an Alarming Rate

Campaign group Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics analyzed recently published data by various regulatory bodies in the UK and the U.S. This data included figures from the UK’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The group also took estimates from organizations like the British Poultry Council, as well as figures cataloged during cattle farm reviews.

By compiling this data and then making comparisons between the British and the U.S. markets, the Alliance hoped to get a clearer picture of what could happen if the planned U.S. food trade deal goes ahead after Brexit. More specifically, the organization sought to compare the volume of antibiotics used in the US to that in the UK — and the findings are stark.

The US uses several times more antibiotics in almost every sector of animal rearing. U.S. pigs receive nearly double the amount of antibiotics that UK animals do, while U.S. chickens receive three times more antibiotics than UK chickens. The highest figure, however, was documented in cattle. In the U.S., the Alliance estimates that cattle are given anywhere between nine and 16 times the level of antibiotics given to UK cattle.

In terms of average use, the Alliance estimates that all U.S. food animals receive antibiotics in amounts five times greater than in the UK.

Suzi Shingler of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, explained:

US cattle farmers are massively overusing antibiotics. This finding shows the huge advantages of British beef, which is often from grass-reared animals, whereas US cattle are usually finished in intensive feedlots. Trade negotiators who may be tempted to lift the ban on US beef should not only be considering the impact of growth hormones, but also of antibiotic resistance due to rampant antibiotic use.

When it comes to antibiotics, major UK farming bodies have attempted responsible scale-downs, and they’ve welcomed outside industry help to accomplish this goal. The efforts have involved transitioning to large-scale grass-fed operations. While this solution is by no means perfect for animal welfare, it provides a more natural setting for cattle and keeps them healthy.

Grass-fed operations are costly in terms of finance and space, but they have become the British standard. Meanwhile, UK farmers say that the U.S. maintains vastly different standards, and meat imports risk undermining welfare and safety regulations, while undercutting British farmers at the expense of both consumer health and animal health.

Antibiotic resistance in action

The U.S. government appears to entirely ignore such concerns, with Ted McKinney, the Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs at the United States Department of Agriculture stating last year during an Oxford Farming Conference, that “We will hold our food safety, environment and welfare standards up against the UK any day of the week and twice on Sunday,.”

But the data does not lie, and not only does the U.S. overuse antibiotics, its use of growth hormones is notorious. Furthermore, British safety groups have serious concerns about U.S. propensity for chlorine-washing chicken carcasses –  a practice banned in the EU.

Speaking specifically to the issue of antibiotics use, we have seen in horrifying real-time the effect that mass farming has on impairing our antibiotics. Farms in China and in India have used antibiotics without strict controls, and microbial resistance has grown in areas around those farms.

Bolstering the U.S. market and introducing a new wave of antibiotics-laden meat into the UK has the potential to damage global efforts to reduce antibiotic resistance. Campaigners are calling for trade negotiations to only go ahead if the UK keeps its high standards and does not allow for any compromise on antibiotics overuse. Not only is that important for the farming industry, but it could also be vital to safeguarding long term consumer health.

Photo Credit: Alexander Dimitrov/Unsplash


Colin C
Colin Cyesterday

Why is it that all U.S. food animals receive antibiotics in amounts five times greater than in the UK ?

Roberto M
Roberto M1 days ago

thanks for sharing

Janet B
Janet B2 days ago


Sophie M
Sophie M2 days ago

thank you

Dr. Jan Hill
Dr. Jan Hill3 days ago


Amanda M
Amanda M3 days ago

Thanks for sharing

Amanda M
Amanda M3 days ago

Thanks for sharing

DAVID f3 days ago


Rosslyn O
Rosslyn O5 days ago

Just wish they would all stop torturing animals actually...

Pietro Maiorana
Pietro Maiorana6 days ago

Perché le targhette con i numeri sono molto dentro le orecchie??