Response to statement issued by Shadow Secretary Kerry McCarthy on antibiotic use in farming

In response to a speech yesterday from Kerry McCarthy, Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on use of antibiotics in agriculture, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) says:

“We welcome the shadow minister’s focus on the issue of antibiotic resistance and note her position on the role targets can play. Whilst there are many risks involved with target setting we can confirm that the UK livestock sector, through RUMA, has already agreed that it is keen to work with the authorities and appropriate specialists to develop meaningful, evidence-based targets on the use of antibiotics in farming.

“To achieve this, more evidence on actual usage of antibiotics and the impact of any reductions is essential to avoid the risk of setting inappropriate targets, which could be counterproductive and even lead to increased risk of resistance.

“RUMA also welcomes Ms McCarthy’s recognition that interventions in antibiotic use are not without consequence. Any benefits for public health need to be balanced against the impact of restricted antibiotic use on animal welfare, the economic viability of our farms and overall UK food security. Badly handled, there is a real risk we will end up importing produce which increases risk to human health if our own, highly-regulated industry is rendered unviable through arbitrary curbs.

“RUMA believes the best course of action is to move away from a fixation with reducing antibiotic use alone and help farmers improve animal health, reduce bacterial diseases and their need to use antibiotics. One route is for food businesses to work closely with their supply chains to give farmers the confidence, means and support to make any necessary changes. Another would be government support for accessing EU funding streams to help UK producers upgrade old buildings and invest in new technology.

“However, RUMA challenges Ms McCarthy’s statement that higher use of antibiotics in farming is undermining their effectiveness in human medicine. Recent reports have indicated antibiotic resistant bacteria in humans and animals is – for the most part – genetically different[i],ii,iii; another study has confirmed farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases[iv].

“Despite this, resistance is a threat in animals too and the farming industry, as well as those looking after the health of horses and pets, must ‘do its bit’ to control spread.

“The UK livestock sector is actively looking at the lessons it can learn from other countries experiences in reducing antibiotic use.  However, direct comparisons are never simple. It should be remembered that the Danish government invested heavily to allow its pig farmers to build new high-health premises, and in reducing its antibiotic usage by nearly 60%, the Netherlands is now at approximately the same level of use as the UK.”

[i] de Been M, et al. (2014) Dissemination of Cephalosporin Resistance Genes between Escherichia coli Strains from Farm Animals and Humans by Specific Plasmid Lineages. PLoS Genet 10(12):

ii Mather A, et al. (Sept 27, 2013) Distinguishable epidemics of multidrug-resistant Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 in different hosts. Sciencexpress,

iii Wu G, et al. (2013), Comparative Analysis of ESBL-Positive Escherichia coli Isolates from Animals and Humans from the UK, The Netherlands and Germany. PLoS ONE 8(9): e75392. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0075392

iv Burch, D. 2015 – Use of antibiotics in animals and people. November 28, 2015, Veterinary Record, 549-550 doi:10.1136/vr.h6380


For further information contact RUMA Secretary General John FitzGerald ( or see the RUMA website

For press enquiries contact Amy Jackson (, 01993 880360, 07917 773756)


  1. RUMA is an alliance of 24 organisations representing every stage of the “farm to fork” process which aims to promote a co-ordinated and integrated approach to best practice in the use of medicines on farm.
  1. RUMA has formulated comprehensive guidelines for the responsible use of antimicrobials in livestock production. These give advice on all aspects from application and responsibilities of the farmer and veterinary surgeon, to strategies for reduced usage.