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How Factory Farming Harms People, Planet and Animals

Why is responsible antibiotic use within factory farms so high?

Why are so many antibiotics used on factory farms

“Overuse of antibiotics is rife in factory farms because of the inherent difficulty in identifying clinical signs, isolating, catching and treating individual animals Where stocking density is high and/or group sizes are large, it may be that clinical signs of disease are only noticed when several are suffering, or pigs have started dying many animals, as producers ensure available space is utilised to maximise profit, and therefore it is not always feasible to pull out individuals for treatment

Source: Former UK livestock vet.

Farming animals for meat is a particularly intense process, with pig sows, for instance, not being given enough time to recover in-between births. This compromises their immune system. Also, pigs and chickens live in confined, crowded spaces, which increases their stress and the risk of disease transmission.The weaning practices that take place in farms influence the animals’ microbiome and create a false need for antibiotics. Piglets are taken away from their mothers too early —that is, before they’ve had a chance to develop a strong immune system or a healthy, fully matured gastrointestinal tract
🔗Source: Drug resistance: Does antibiotic use in animals affect human health?
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What The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics says generally

“Antibiotics: an insurance policy for intensive systems The routine 'mass medication' of animals enables them to stave off diseases in conditions which are often ‘disease inducing’. Routine antibiotic use is enabling the continuation of intensive farming systems, and fuelling the antibiotic resistance crisis in people. In the UK 30% of all antibiotic use is in farm animals and mass medication accounts for about 75% of antibiotic use. Keeping animals healthy through good practice Animals do not need routine antibiotics to stay healthy. Organic and higher welfare systems use antibiotics sparingly, and only when animals need it. Livestock should and can be kept healthy through good husbandry and welfare, rather than through ‘bought in’ immunity. Overwhelming evidence shows that animals are more susceptible to disease when stressed. Stress releases hormones such as cortisol in animals, which can reduce immunity by compromising the immune system. In intensive systems, animals are often bred for maximum yield, rather than for natural disease resistance and robustness”

What The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics says by sectors


Pigs - in intensive, indoor systems can receive antibiotics throughout their lives Piglets are often given antibiotics preventatively at weaning, which occurs usually at three or four weeks, when pigs will often be mixed and develop post weaning diarrhoea Research shows that early weaned piglets are more likely to suffer from diarrhoea as their ‘intestinal barrier function’ against pathogens is disrupted Moving to later weaning would reduce the incidence of diarrhoea, which is a major cause of the high levels of antibiotic use in weaners Organic pig farms wean piglets later, and use much lower levels of antibiotics.”


Poultry - Antibiotics are commonly used in the poultry industry for the treatment and prevention of respiratory diseases and other bacterial infections There have been significant reductions by the UK poultry industry to overall use of antibiotics in recent years but poultry farmers continue to use the fluoroquinolones a class of antibiotics important for treating serious human Campylobacter infections These may be added to the drinking water of a flock, even when no disease is present in most birds Countries including the US, Australia, Denmark and Sweden do not use fluoroquinolones in poultry due to fears around human resistance.”


“Antibiotics are commonly used in the dairy sector for ‘dry cow therapy’ This involves infusing antibiotics into the udder to prevent the occurrence of mastitis during the ‘ period Dry cow therapy is often used across all cows as a purely preventative measure even when there are no signs of disease present Research has shown that 85 of non organic farms used routine, non selective dry cow therapy in all their cows”.

What the soil association says about antibiotics in farming

“Farm animals consume one third of all antibiotics in the UK and it is intensive farming systems that use drugs at unnecessarily high levels, putting human health at risk”
"The routine use of antibiotics in intensive farming systems is driving this problem Drugs are given to animals as a preventative measure before they show signs of illness to compensate for animals being housed in cramped, unsanitary conditions where infections spread fast Intensively reared pigs and poultry account for 79 of UK farming antibiotic use
🔗Source: Antibiotic resistance: the challenge for farming

What the Bureau of Investigative Journalism says about antibiotic usage in farming

The use of certain antibiotics deemed critical to human health has surged on British pig farms supplying major supermarkets, prompting fresh concerns about the rise of antibiotic-resistant superbugs. Previously unpublished industry data seen by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Vet Record and the Guardian shows the use of a class of antibiotics prescribed for various infections in humans more than doubled on UK pig farms between 2015 and 2019, with experts warning of a potential further rise because of impending changes to the sector. The Bureau’s investigation has established the drugs are in use on pig farms supplying pork to Tesco and Waitrose. The increase in usage of this class of drugs, known as aminoglycosides, came even as livestock farmers in the UK cut back on the overall use of antibiotics following stark warnings that the drug resistance crisis could lead to the deaths of millions of people around the world by 2050.
Antibiotics are widely used in livestock production to treat and prevent disease, particularly on factory farms where pigs and poultry are often reared in overcrowded conditions in which bacteria can flourish. These farms can act as incubators for potentially fatal drug-resistant diseases in humans Data compiled by the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board, an industry body, and released under Freedom of Information laws, shows the use of aminoglycosides jumped from 2.6mg per kilogram of body weight in 2015 to 5.9mg in 2019. Aminoglycosides are a class of drugs that includes gentamicin, a medicine used in humans to treat for meningitis and infections of the blood and abdomen. They are deemed “critically important” to human health by the World Health Organization (WHO). Despite this, they are used on pig farms to combat scour, an intestinal disease in young piglets, and other illnesses.
Cóilín Nunan, the scientific adviser at the pressure group Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “Reductions in antibiotic use can be achieved if pigs are kept less intensively and husbandry is improved.” He added that farms should not be permitted to take piglets away from the sow at an early age – a “stressful” practice associated with large increases in antibiotic use. According to industry experts, the recent jump in the use of aminoglycosides is likely due to the phasing out of other antibiotics such as colistin – a measure specifically designed to tackle antimicrobial resistance – and changes on farms in preparation for an EU ban on the use of zinc oxide, also commonly used to control scour.
Adding to concerns about overuse of drugs, Tesco, the UK’s biggest food retailer, has disclosed a 51% year-on-year jump in overall antibiotic use on farms supplying its pork. Antibiotic use within its UK and Denmark pig supply chains increased from 60.5mg per kilo to 91mg per kilo in the financial year ending March 2020.
In 2018, the European Medicines Agency warned that “the use of [aminoglycosides] in human and veterinary medicine is associated with the increased prevalence of resistance”, citing examples of drug-resistant E coli, salmonella and livestock variants of MRSA. There is evidence that the use in farming of at least one of these drugs, apramycin, can cause bacteria to acquire resistance to gentamicin. Testing of UK supermarket meat has previously found pork contaminated with gentamicin-resistant E coli, highlighting the risk posed to humans. In addition, records seen by the Bureau show instances of mass medication involving the dosing of thousands of pigs with other antibiotics on farms supplying UK supermarkets.
🔗Source: Superbug fears as supermarket pig farms escalate use of antibiotics. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism
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