Soil Association campaign comes under fire from RUMA

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) chair Gwyn Jones.

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) chair Gwyn Jones. - Credit: Archant

An industry lobby group calling for responsible use of medicines in farm animals has hit out at the Soil Association’s new fundraising campaign against excessive use of antibiotics in farming.

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association

Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association - Credit: Archant

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) warned that what it described as an “attack” on UK farming systems could lead to unintended consequences, such as the replacement of high quality and safe British food with cheaper imports.

RUMA chair Gwyn Jones attacked what he claimed were “incorrect facts and lack of knowledge of industry progress” in the campaign messages, which he said were divisive.

“Denigrating certain farming systems is likely to alienate and demotivate the vast number of first-rate conventional farmers across the UK who are already implementing change in order to play their part in tackling this global issue. It’s probably not an approach many of our excellent organic farmers will feel entirely comfortable with either,” he said.

“Furthermore, antibiotic resistance is a One Health issue across human and animal medicine with good progress being made in both; efforts to divide along these lines too, when we should all be working together, are unhelpful.”

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He pointed to a 10% reduction in antibiotic sales into the farming industry in a year, and a halving in antibiotics prescribed in feed for young pigs.

“Good hygiene, husbandry, housing and welfare, as identified by the Soil Association itself, are all factors in achieving these. But antibiotics, prescribed by a veterinary surgeon and used responsibly, also remain important for preserving animal health and welfare.”

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Peter Melchett, policy director at the Soil Association said: “RUMA’s criticism is not surprising as they are an alliance mainly representing the pharmaceutical and the intensive-farming industries, and for the past 20 years they have been the leading UK body lobbying against any and all regulatory attempts to end routine mass medication with antibiotics.”

The association did welcome progress being made, but argued greater reductions could be made with better husbandry practices, such as later weaning of piglets to cut out the need for feed additives such as zinc oxide, he said.

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