US farms are using MORE antibiotics despite warnings that overuse will spread superbugs and send modern medicine back to Dark Ages – as fears grow UK shops will be swamped with cheap American food in free trade deal
- Antibiotics to US farms jumped from 5,559 tons in 2017 to 6,036 tons in 2018
- In same period, sales to UK farms dropped by 9 per cent from 248 tons to 226
- Routine use of antibiotics on farms risks returning medicine to ‘Dark Ages’, experts say
The use of antibiotics in animals on US factory farms is increasing despite warnings that the practice risks spreading deadly superbugs.
Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that the sale of antibiotics to American farms jumped from 5,559 tons in 2017 to 6,036 tons in 2018 – a 9 per cent rise.
Over the same period, antibiotic sales to UK farms dropped by 9 per cent from 248 tons to 226 tons.
It comes as experts warn that the routine use of treatments on farms risks returning medicine to the ‘Dark Ages’, as bacterial resistance turns once-trivial infections into killer illnesses.
The use of antibiotics in animals on US factory farms is increasing despite warnings that the practice risks spreading deadly superbugs (file photo)
And it will deepen fears that British supermarkets could be flooded by cheap food from vast US ‘mega-farms’ – where the mass use of antibiotics is widespread – as Ministers rush to strike a coveted transatlantic free trade deal.
The biggest US intensive beef farms – known as feedlots – have up to 150,000 cattle housed in outdoor pens with little or no shelter, while at least two pig farms each have an astonishing 800,000 animals.
The largest US mega-dairies boast 30,000 cows.
Ministers have pledged not to undermine animal welfare, environmental and food standards with low-quality imports as they thrash out a deal with US negotiators.
Figures obtained by The Mail on Sunday reveal that the sale of antibiotics to American farms jumped from 5,559 tons in 2017 to 6,036 tons in 2018 – a 9 per cent rise
But farmers and environmental campaigners were furious earlier this month when a bid to enshrine the promise into law was defeated.
‘Quite possibly we will end up in a situation where we are allowing imports of products that would not be allowed here,’ said Rob Percival of the Soil Association.
Polls show we want high food standards
Ministers face a fierce public backlash if they allow US chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef to be sold on Britain’s supermarket shelves.
An overwhelming 93 per cent of Britons want our high food standards to be protected in post-Brexit trade deals, according to polling commissioned by Which?
One survey found that 80 per cent of the more than 2,000 adults quizzed would not be comfortable eating beef that had been reared using growth hormones.
Another poll of 2,399 Britons found 68 per cent were not happy about eating chicken washed with chlorine.
In a separate online survey by the consumer watchdog involving 21 adults, every participant believed that maintaining or improving food standards should be a ‘post-Brexit priority’.
‘Our biggest opportunity when we leave the EU is to introduce the most stringent food safety and standards in the whole world,’ one 53-year-old man from South West England told Which? researchers.
The US Department of Agriculture has dismissed concerns over food safety standards as ‘unfounded’.
‘That could negatively affect public health.’
In comments last year before he joined the Cabinet, Environment Secretary George Eustice called animal welfare law in the US ‘woefully deficient’.
Up to a million chickens are crammed together on some farms in vast hanger-like facilities, while tens of thousands of cows are housed in dusty outdoor pens.
Most US states still allow pregnant pigs to be housed in metal ‘sow stalls’, while slaughtered chickens are sometimes washed in chlorine.
US cattle farmers can use steroid hormones to speed growth by up to 20 per cent – a practice banned across the EU since 1989.
One of the six drugs routinely used – 17 beta oestradiol – is a known carcinogen, and Mr Percival pointed to evidence that meat produced using the hormone ‘increases the cancer risk to consumers’.
Nearly three-quarters of US pigs are estimated to be fed with ractopamine, which was originally used to treat asthma.
It is, however, the overuse of antibiotics on US farms that experts fear could pose one of the gravest risks to long-term public health because it threatens to boost rates of drug-resistant superbugs.
Such illnesses already account for 700,000 deaths worldwide each year.
But top economist Jim O’Neill has warned that by 2050, drug-resistant infections will kill an extra ten million people a year worldwide – equivalent to one every three seconds and a cost to the planet of $100 trillion.
Sales of antibiotics to British farms dropped by 50 per cent between 2014 and 2018, according to official figures analysed by Coilin Nunan, of the campaign group Alliance To Save Our Antibiotics.
US farms were banned in 2017 from using antibiotics solely to make animals fatter, resulting in a 33 per cent fall in drug sales to farms from 8,356 to 5,559 tons.
But Mr Nunan said sales increased again in 2018 as farmers switched to giving large numbers of perfectly healthy animals antibiotics as a way of preventing disease.
Over the same period, antibiotic sales to UK farms dropped by 9 per cent from 248 tons to 226 tons
In comments last year before he joined the Cabinet, Environment Secretary George Eustice called animal welfare law in the US ‘woefully deficient’
He calculates that US livestock receive dosage levels five times higher than those in the UK.
Mr Nunan added: ‘The US already uses enormous amounts of antibiotics in farming and this increase suggests that they are replacing some of their former use of growth promoters with more routine preventative use of antibiotics.’
Meanwhile, the rush towards a trade deal could also see Britain importing more genetically modified foods.
Senior UK officials have refused to rule out whether GM food, which is widely used in the US but heavily restricted in the EU, will be on the table in any talks.
Q&A on looming threat to our way of life
How does the EU subsidise UK farmers at the moment?
Since 1972, our farmers have relied on subsidies distributed through the EU’s much-derided Common Agricultural Policy (CAP).
Under it, UK farmers are paid around £3 billion a year – with the average basic payment worth £22,700 per farm.
However, this subsidy will be phased out in England from next year (and 2024 in Scotland and Wales) as part of a post-Brexit agricultural revolution.
How will the Agriculture Bill change that?
It introduces the concept of ‘public money for public goods’ into farming for the first time.
Landowners will receive cash to enhance the environment, such as planting trees.
They will be expected to sign so-called environmental land management contracts detailing their commitments to issues including flood management and improving public access.
But the Bill has been criticised by some farmers for being too ‘green-focused’ and for failing to support food production.
Who will be the winners?
Super-rich landowners could receive thousands of pounds in taxpayer support without growing a single carrot.
Details of the new environmental contracts remain vague and the system could prove fiendishly complicated and open to abuse.
How, for example, will the protection of a peat bog be rewarded compared to planting a hedgerow or maintaining a footpath?
Who will be the losers?
For many smaller family-owned farms, the annual EU subsidy is all that keeps them from insolvency.
The National Farmers’ Union estimates about 40 per cent of UK farms would make an annual loss if the payments are taken away.
Payments are being cut by between 5 and 25 per cent next year before the new system has even been introduced.
What is the concern about imports from US mega-farms?
America stands accused of having much lower animal welfare and environmental standards.
It is feared a flood of cheap food from US mega-farms would undercut British farmers and result in lower standards here.
Despite a Tory pledge not to compromise our high food standards, a backbench bid to enshrine this into law was defeated earlier this month.
The US continues to insist agricultural goods are included in any free trade agreement.
What are the UK’s animal welfare rules?
Britain boasts world-leading welfare standards, with detailed rules governing issues such as transport and slaughter.
The UK has banned battery cages for hens since 2012 and so-called sow stalls since 1999.
Since 1997, animals have been recognised under EU law as sentient beings – which means it is acknowledged they are able to feel pain and suffer.
How do US animal welfare standards compare?
There is no federal US legislation governing the welfare of animals while they are on the farm, and only weak and patchy regulations at state level.
The rules governing slaughter are much less detailed – and do not exist at all for poultry.
Only ten states have banned sow stalls. There is also a general resistance to acknowledging sentience in farm animals.
How are UK and US food production rules different?
Chicken in the US is washed in chlorine to remove harmful bacteria – a practice banned in the EU in 1997 over fears it allows poor hygiene standards in the production process.
Hormones given to pigs, sheep and cattle on US mega-farms to boost their growth rates or milk production are banned in the EU and other countries.
And the use of antibiotics in US cattle is far higher than in the UK, despite fears by experts the treatments will spread deadly drug-resistant illnesses.
In 2019, 94 per cent of soy beans and 80 per cent of maize from the US was genetically modified and GM food does not have to be declared on labels.
In contrast, all foods in the EU which contain more than 0.9 per cent of GM ingredients must say so on the packaging.
Nick von Westenholz, of the National Farmers’ Union, suggested last night that low-cost US food imports could spark a ‘race to the bottom’ as the competition forces more UK farms to adopt industrial practices to survive.
Top economist Jim O’Neill has warned that by 2050, drug-resistant infections will kill an extra ten million people a year worldwide – equivalent to one every three seconds and a cost to the planet of $100 trillion
He said: ‘UK farmers would be asked a question they would never want to have to answer: do they just let themselves go out of business or do they demand a lowering of their standards – the race to the bottom.
‘Why would we want to pose our farmers that question?’
Mega-farms are already on the march in Britain. The Welsh county of Powys has 100 large-scale intensive chicken farms and 60 times as many chickens as people.
Philip Lymbery, of Compassion in World Farming, warned that crowded conditions in US-style factory farms could be a ‘ticking time bomb for future pandemics’.
Last night, a Government spokesman said the UK was renowned for its high food safety and animal welfare standards and vowed to safeguard the agriculture sector.
Woody Johnson, the US ambassador to the UK, has defended American agricultural products as ‘safe, nutritious and delicious’.
Stand up for British farmers against a US invasion of chlorinated chicken and hormone-stuffed beef, says Winston Churchill’s grandson SIR NICHOLAS SOAMES in an urgent message to Ministers
We are extraordinarily lucky in this country to be served by some of the most effective and efficient farmers in the world, and never should we have been more conscious of this than now.
Our farmers have worked round the clock, in all-weathers, to ensure we remain fed, even at the depth of the crisis.
Food has been diverted from all manner of supply chains into our supermarkets and high street grocers.
British agriculture is renowned throughout the world for its productivity, very high standards and its skill in getting food from farm to fork.
Yet, today, facing an unprecedented economic slump and a radical overhaul in our international trading agreements, our farmers face their biggest challenge since the Second World War.
We are extraordinarily lucky in this country to be served by some of the most effective and efficient farmers in the world, and never should we have been more conscious of this than now, writes SIR NICHOLAS SOAMES MP
We are truly at a critical juncture for farming, the countryside and the environment.
It has barely registered in public debate, yet radical legislation is now going through Parliament that will set the future arrangements for domestic agriculture for the first time since 1947.
And within this Agriculture Bill, there is no protection against substandard imports.
It is of profound importance that all of us realise this. We are being sleep-walked into negotiations with the United States which are of profound importance, even though there is still no clear trade policy for our agriculture and our farmers.
This is why I was deeply saddened to see so few of our parliamentarians stand alongside our farmers last week, with so few of them voting for vital changes to the Bill.
These amendments would have protected consumers and the farming industry from damaging food imports, the type of cheap food that would be illegal to produce here and which threatens serious harm to the high standards of our own agriculture.
We have many MPs who make great play regarding Britain’s high standards in both farming and the environment.
This vote was a real opportunity for them to ensure that our farmers would not be undermined by future trade deals, especially when such agreements could see imports of low-quality food with a damaging environmental impact undercutting the very standards we rightly demand at home.
So the question is, will Liz Truss and her Department for International Trade do their duty and stand up for British farmers and the public interest, and block the truly dismal prospect of chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef?
Many of these are produced at well below the high standards we insist our own farmers adhere to.
These mean that we don’t need to wash chicken in chemicals to get rid of harmful bacteria, or bulk up our cattle with artificial substances to make them grow faster.
Ministers have already insisted the UK will not import chlorinated chicken or hormone-treated beef under a trade deal with the US
The Government must ensure that there are cast-iron guarantees that British farmers and the public will not be betrayed over this.
The farming industry has suggested we establish a Food and Standards Commission in order to examine trade deals and make informed recommendations to MPs.
This is an extremely good idea and would offer essential parliamentary scrutiny, something that appears sadly lacking today.
There has been considerable and welcome support for such a commission, including from successive Secretaries of State at the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs: Michael Gove, Theresa Villiers and currently George Eustice.
I understand, however, that the proposal remains firmly stuck on the doorstep of Liz Truss’s Department for International Trade.
We need to know why this urgent matter has not been dealt with – and when the Government is going to protect the public interest.
This is emphatically not about protectionism. This is about leadership. This is about the values that should – and most of us understood would – underpin ‘Global Britain’.
We should be leading the world towards our own, hard-earned high standards, not lowering the bar so we can join the rest of them.
When I was an MP, I saw our former Prime Minister, Theresa May, take the bold decision to legislate this country’s commitment to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
The farming industry has suggested we establish a Food and Standards Commission in order to examine trade deals and make informed recommendations to MPs
That was about brave leadership. Indeed, it showed the world we were absolutely committed to and serious about climate change.
We must continue that legacy. We should be embracing the vital role agriculture has to play in tackling climate change and its unique position to suck harmful gases out of the atmosphere and store it in our soil.
If we import food which has been grazed amid the burning remains of the Amazon rainforest, what on Earth does that say about Britain and its principles?
I have lived in the countryside all my life. I was an Agriculture Minister in John Major’s government and I have developed a profound respect for all that our farmers do for the nation, often under great difficulties.
Our consumers can be is assured of very high-quality food produced by our excellent farmers, to some of the highest standards of animal welfare and environmental protection in the world.
We must settle for nothing less. Our countryside, in which everyone shares equal pride, is a blessing and a joy to us all.
All across our country, the patchwork of family farmers maintains our footpaths, bridleways and dry stone walls, and are truly part of the very backbone of British life.
They bind together often remote, sometimes fragile, communities.
Many of these farmers and their hard-working families are already going through extremely tough times, and living on incomes perilously close to the edge of viability.
Which is why I also believe the Government should now pause its plans to phase out direct financial support for food production next year, as it currently intends to do.
If it wishes to continue the welcome development of its new ‘public money for public goods’ policy, then it can and should, but it must not take money away from food production at such short notice and at such critical times.
With farmers facing great uncertainty and disruption due to the immediate impact of the coronavirus, it is short-sighted and truly foolish to press ahead with an overhaul in arrangements for farmers.
In the US, a Farm Bill is injecting billions of dollars into agriculture.
A decision by this Government to leave our farmers exposed at this time and unable to compete on a level playing field, would be an unprecedented dereliction of duty with severe consequences for our farmers and the public interest.
My grandfather, Winston Churchill, recognised after two World Wars the profound importance of being able to feed this island nation.
My grandfather, Winston Churchill, recognised after two World Wars the profound importance of being able to feed this island nation
My grandparents’ and my parents’ generations lived through an era of food rationing in the 1940s, conscious that Britain produced a dismal 30 per cent of its own food.
Important lessons were learnt and the landmark 1947 Agriculture Act put us on a new path.
We are now roughly 60 per cent self-sufficient in food, which is a very considerable achievement, although we can – and will – do better.
History offers us many of the answers to the great difficulties we face in modern life, if only we would listen to them, not least that it is one of the most important duties of any government to feed its people.
This Government has committed itself to taking back control, to building a bigger, better Britain.
Surely that is about a truly independent nation that will maintain exceptionally high standards of animal welfare and environmental protection, and continue to care for our magnificent countryside and the farmers that have shaped it.
Achieving this will ensure that Britain can be the global leader that our planet desperately needs.
This is a time for our Government to aim high and negotiate trade on our terms.
We must not give away the keys to British farming and open the door to deep and lasting damage.
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