Antibiotic use in ‘food’ animals – in UK & EU

The stark facts and figures below give us an insight into the brutal, pitiless existence of farmed animals. Most reports quoting these facts highlight the consequences for humans of antibiotic use in animals ignoring the glaring suffering their use exposes. This anthropocentric viewpoint is not broad enough morally to satisfy us, and until we, as a species, relinquish this self-serving mindset we will never evolve past the level of clever vermin on this planet. The irony is, human selfishness and disregard for other sentient life is, as we see in the following article, a short-sighted philosophy that is ensuring our own demise. Earth life is a web, not a hierarchy – we forget that at our peril. 

Information compiled by Sara Starkey

Antibiotics = AB

Major source:  ‘Case Study of a Health Crisis’ – Save Our Antibiotics’  (A report by CIWF, Sustain and Soil Ass.  Published 2011)

“Despite the ban of the use of antibiotics (AB)as growth promoters, there seems to be no significant decrease in the consumption of antibiotics in the veterinary sector, which continue to be used systematically for ‘prophylactic’ purposes due to unsustainable agricultural practices.”

Resolution of Environment Committee of the European Parliament, Oct 2011. (Page 19 of above report)

The Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VDM) in 2010 confirmed ‘there is no central record kept of the use of antimicrobials in animals in the UK.’  This quote in relation to supposed decrease in AB use. Reported AB sales for food animals did decrease from 2006 when AB growth promoters ban came into force BUT …….stronger/higher potency drugs, weighing less and fewer animals born – 12% in cattle, 40% in pigs  there was no change in tonnage of drugs to tonnage of animals slaughtered.

AB use in UK 2007

Approx 500 tonnes for humans (494.7 tonnes)

Approx use for animals 400 tonnes (394 tonnes)

But lower weight does NOT mean less use as many modern AB’s weigh less (and are more potent).

AB use in farmed animals: in the UK 90% of these drugs are used on pigs and poultry. (that equals 60% of the tonnage)

80% of animals are factory farmed in EU. That is 5 (FIVE) BILLION pigs and poultry a year.

Intensive farming is a breeding ground for disease and animals are dosed with ABs to compensate for suppression of immune system due to : overcrowding, early weaning, high stress and other aspects of the unnatural production systems these animals are forced to endure.

By the turn of the 21st Century HALF of all AB production in the WORLD is used in food animals.


The average pig lives for 191 days and is exposed to 30 AB doses from birth to 74 days.  5 AB doses during fattening period = 35 -37 days.

The average pig has AB for 20% of its life.


The average broiler chicken lives for 42 days and has AB doses for 5 days = 12% of its life.

Dairy Cows:

90% of dairy cows have Dry Cow Therapy (DCT) for mastitis.  Two AB treatments a year.  One for prevention.  One for treatment.

Life span of dairy cow in EU is now 5-6 years before ‘culling’ due to infertility and illness due to physiological exhaustion.

Dairy Calves over ‘weaning’ period have AB for 7 days out of their 56 day weaning period.

To put this in context the average human has 0.75 AB per year.

Antibiotic use in farmed animals

THERAPEUTIC                   = for treatment of disease

PROPHYLACTIC                = for prevention of disease

GROWTH PROMOTERS    = to increase growth rate   antibiotic growth promoters (ABGP)

Between 1997 -2006 EU banned the use of ABGPs  ….BUT the low doses of prophylactics are often sufficient to act as growth promoters.

These ABGP are still legal in most of the world.  In the USA only in 2012 is this issue becoming important.

AB use in farmed animals  are a breeding ground for AB resistant strains of :

Salmonella – E Coli – Campylobacter  – MRSA

ESBL’s  =  extended spectrum Beta-lactames and Amps C beta lactames   are types of enzymes produced by certain strains of bacteria which make them resistant to virtually all the beta lactames ABs

Transmission from animals :

Direct contact  = as in farm workers and slaughter men

Eating contaminated food = generally from faecal matter getting on the carcass during slaughter &/or guts removed.  Can then contaminate other food in the fridge etc

Via environment  = soil, water, air and from flies and cockroaches living in pig farms etc

Drugs that are very important for human use

Cephalosporins are a class of AB that the WHO classifies as ‘critically important” for humans

YET….by 2008  20 EU members authorised 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins for injection and Dry Cow Therapy

Fluoroquinolones: one of the main ones is called Cipo (Ciprofloxacin) for salmonella and Campylobacter

YET …related one used in poultry production (enrofloxacin called Baytril)

Baytril is banned in USA since 2005

BUT…EU allows use for respitatory and digestive infections in pigs, cattle and poultry, including calves and piglets and can be administered to whole flocks of poultry via drinking water


factory-farms704,000 pigs are slaughtered daily (2006 FIGURES)

Pigs slaughtered a year …..621,952,000  that is over half a BILLION!

46% of all ABs use in China is on farmed animals

The high use of  ABs in Chinese pig  farming is producing    AB resistant genes that pose a potential worldwide human health risk..(Can’t find where I got that from but an article just recently).

Britain is selling breeding  pigs to China worth £20 million a year.

One last aspect that is only now starting to gain interest is that as antibiotics make farmed animals grow bigger is this happening to humans too with so many ABs given out?

Researchers found evidence that low exposure to the drugs upsets the delicate balance of gut bacteria which in turn alters metabolism.  The findings indicate a possible link between rising rates of obesity and modern farming methods.

Prof Brendan Wren (London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine) said:

‘Indiscriminate use of antibiotics for livestock (often used to fatten animals), not only promotes the spread of antibiotic resistance, but can get in our food chain and affect the homeostasis of our gut microflora.’

Dr Cormac Gahan, from Uni College Cork  (IRE) said:  “These studies support an emerging body of evidence linking gut bacteria with the development of obesity.’

World Health Organization director general Margaret Chan:

“Worldwide, the fact that greater quantities of antibiotics are used in healthy animals than in unhealthy humans is a cause for great concern.”

Speaking at the WHO book launch  “The Evolving Threat of Antimicrobial Resistance: Options for Action (march 2012)

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