Government ignores farm antibiotics concerns in pursuit of Australia trade deal

Press release: 14.06.2021

Government ignores farm antibiotics concerns in pursuit of Australia trade deal

In a letter to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics [1], the Government has failed to guarantee that responsible stewardship of antibiotics will be a priority when negotiating trade deals that involve meat and dairy imports. Alarmingly, the letter also failed to commit to banning imports of meat and dairy produced with antibiotic growth promoters – a practice that has been banned in the UK since 2006.

The Alliance has expressed increasing concern that the imminent trade deal with Australia, where five different antibiotics continue to be used for growth promotion [3] to reduce the cost of rearing farm animals, could set a precedent for agreeing deals with countries that misuse farm antibiotics.

The Alliance had written to Liz Truss MP, Secretary of State for International Trade, asking the Government to uphold good antibiotic-stewardship policies in its trade negotiations, including a ban on the importation of animal foods produced with antibiotic growth promoters [2].

The letter points to evidence that Australian farm antibiotic use is significantly higher than the UK’s. Australian poultry farmers use 16 times more antibiotics per animal than British poultry farmers. The Australian pig industry uses three times more antibiotics per animal. The Australian data for beef and lamb production is not detailed enough to make an accurate comparison, which is a problem in its own right.

Greg Hands MP, the Minister of State for Trade Policy, responded on behalf of the Government but did not address most of the specific issues raised by the Alliance. Hands said that imports would continue to be tested for veterinary medicines residues. However, scientists believe that most of the transfer of antibiotic resistance to humans through food occurs because of antibiotic-resistant bacteria on or in food, rather than because of the presence of antibiotic residues [4].

Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Advisor to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “By January 2022, the whole of the European Union will ban the importation of meat, dairy and eggs produced with antibiotic growth promoters, but it seems that the UK will open its arms to this cheaply produced food from substandard farming systems. British farmers are not allowed to use antibiotic growth promoters, in order to protect human health, so why isn’t the Government supporting British farmers by banning the practice for imports too?”

In its letter, the Alliance had also asked the Government to phase out the import of all animal foods produced with routine antibiotic use and all preventative group treatments, but in his reply Hands did not address this issue. In January 2022 the EU will ban its farmers from using all forms of routine antibiotic use, including preventative group treatments, but the UK Government has not said it will do the same [5].

Hands also claimed in his letter that Australia has some of the highest animal-welfare standards in the world even though, unlike the UK and the EU, Australia has no specific legally binding welfare standards for farmed pigs or poultry [6].



Notes to Editors


[1]            Letter from The Rt Hon Greg Hands MP to Kath Dalmeny, Phil Lymbery and Helen Browning, 9 June 2021

[2]            Letter from Kath Dalmeny, Phil Lymbery and Helen Browning to The Rt Hon Elizabeth Truss MP, 24 May 2021

[3]           Farm antibiotics and trade deals – could UK standards be undermined,

[4]            Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, 2015. Antimicrobials in Agriculture and the Environment

[5]            Victoria Prentice MP response to Luke Pollard MP,

[6]            Australian Animal Welfare Standards and Guidelines,



For press enquiries please contact:

Suzi Shingler, Campaign Manager, Alliance to Save our Antibiotics 07540192651 Twitter: @ASOAntibiotics


The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is an alliance of health, medical, civil society and animal welfare groups campaigning to stop the overuse of antibiotics in animal farming. It was founded by Compassion in World Farming, the Soil Association and Sustain in 2009. Our vision is a world in which human and animal health and well-being are protected by food and farming systems that do not rely on routine antibiotic use.