The use of antimicrobial drugs (antibiotics) in farming has come under increasing scrutiny because of fears that their overuse in animals speeds the development drug resistant human and animal diseases. Since the late 1990s, this has been the focus of more than ten reports by government advisory committees to the UK and the EU. The response to this concern has been a series of bans on the use of specific antibiotics as growth promoters.
According to the Soil Association, the most sustained critic of antibiotic use in farming, banning individual drugs is not the solution. It argues that overall antibiotic use has risen despite these bans: the nominally non-therapeutic use of antibiotics as growth promoters had been masking systematically poor animal health, meaning that reductions in the use of growth promoters have led to increased prescriptions for therapeutic and prophylactic drugs.
Therefore, the Soil Association insists that a rational approach to combating antimicrobial resistance must aim to promote animal health and welfare by changing farming practices. Simply banning these drugs can exacerbate the problem and is likely to compromise animal welfare. A similar concern was expressed by the UK Policy Commission on the Future of Farming and Food.
In addition to concerns about the economic implications of veterinary drug licensing and about antimicrobial resistance, the Food Ethics Council has questioned the high level of secrecy in drug regulation and the implications of scientific uncertainty for licensing.
A previous report by the Food Ethics Council concluded that the assessment process should be changed: