RUMA response to new Soil Association campaign

Surprise and disappointment have been expressed by RUMA over a new fundraising campaign launched by the Soil Association (now removed from the Soil Association website), which RUMA fears could set back the significant progress being made on reducing use of antibiotics across the UK farming industry.

RUMA, an independent agriculture and food industry alliance which has promoted responsible use of medicines in farm animals for over 20 years, has been driving the industry’s response to the challenge of antibiotic resistance while ensuring animal health and welfare is safeguarded.

Chair Gwyn Jones said he was taken aback, not just by the incorrect facts and lack of knowledge of industry progress in the campaign messages, but that the antibiotic resistance issue could be used as a vehicle to promote philosophical, commercial or fundraising objectives.

He said his biggest concern was the divisiveness of the campaign. “Denigrating certain farming systems is likely to alienate and demotivate the vast number of first-rate conventional farmers across the UK who are already implementing change in order to play their part in tackling this global issue. It’s probably not an approach many of our excellent organic farmers will feel entirely comfortable with either.

“Furthermore, antibiotic resistance is a One Health issue across human and animal medicine with good progress being made in both; efforts to divide along these lines too, when we should all be working together, are unhelpful.”

In response, he challenged the campaign group to end its obstructive approach, work with the wider agricultural industry on areas of mutual interest and acknowledge where headway was being made.

He said: “A 10% reduction in antibiotic sales into the farming industry in a single year, a halving in antibiotics prescribed in feed for young pigs, and poultry meat companies stopping all use of preventative antibiotics can only be described as remarkable progress and tremendous commitment from all involved.

“These changes are supported by vets as well as retailer and processor supply chains, who are already acutely aware of the issue of antibiotic resistance and are being both proactive and resourceful in enabling producers to make sustainable changes.

“Good hygiene, husbandry, housing and welfare, as identified by the Soil Association itself, are all factors in achieving these. But antibiotics, prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and used responsibly, also remain important medicines for preserving animal health and welfare.”

Mr Jones said while some campaign groups had fixed views on how farming should operate, they needed to recognise that livestock farming in the UK was broad and diverse, delivering healthy, affordable food while meeting high welfare standards.

“Attacking farming systems under the guise of campaigning to reduce antibiotics could lead to unintended consequences, such as the replacement of high quality and safe British food with cheaper imports,” he cautioned.