A new report shows organic livestock farmers have much lower antibiotic use than the average levels previously found in national monitoring of all UK livestock farming.
The Antibiotics use in Organic Farming; Lowering Use Through Good Husbandry report from the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics calls for the high animal husbandry standards, as seen in organic, to be recognised as a solution for lowering farm antibiotic use.
A survey, commissioned by the alliance, found that overall antibiotic use per livestock unit by Soil Association Certification organic farmers was four times lower than the national average. For dairy farms, it was less than half the national average, and for beef farms, it was less than a third. For sheep farms, it was less than a fifth of the level found in the most recent large survey of sheep farms.
The survey also included pig and poultry farms and found that antibiotic use per livestock unit by Soil Association Certification organic pig farmers was 75 times lower and for chicken farms five times lower than the national average.
Ed Bailey of The George Farm Vets practice, who carried out the survey, said: “When we asked Soil Association farmers about how they minimised their antibiotic use they told us that husbandry was key. Among a range of factors, frequent responses were that it was important to have good hygiene, to keep animals outdoors as much as possible, to provide a low-stress environment and, in pig farming, to avoid early weaning. Many vets and farmers could learn from those farms with high welfare and low antibiotic use.”
Kate Still of the Soil Association said: “This study shows that most Soil Association certified farmers already have very low antibiotic use because they are implementing organic principles which aim for high animal health and welfare. Organic farmers are showing what is possible when good husbandry and responsible antibiotic use are combined. As we gather more data in years to come, we hope to drive antibiotic use even lower.”
Call to further reduce UK farming’s antibiotic use
“UK farm antibiotic use reduced by nearly 50% between 2014 and 2018, but overall use remains far too high, says the Soil Association. It argues that a case could be made for a stronger focus on husbandry practices when considering long-term antibiotic reductions at a national level. The organic charity says: “This case is particularly strong if we acknowledge that more intensive farming remains dominant in pig and poultry production. Certain diseases continue to be a challenge in these systems and to control them there has been increased reliance on the use of substitute medication that also carries risks, such as zinc oxide to deal with post-weaning diarrhoea in piglets, and ionophores to deal with the intestinal disease coccidiosis in poultry.”