Soil Association denies ‘divisive and obstructive’ antibiotic campaigning

The Soil Association (SA) has denied its campaigning on antibiotics usage in farming is ‘divisive and obstructive’.

The Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA alliance) criticised the organic body’s new fundraising appeal for its campaign against the ‘excessive use of antibiotics in farming’.

RUMA chair Gwyn Jones accused the SA of publishing ‘incorrect facts’ and of a ‘lack of knowledge of industry progress’ on the antibiotic issue. He also criticised the ‘divisiveness’ of the campaign.

“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,” he said.

SA policy director Peter Melchett, 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.”

“Far from taking an obstructive approach, as RUMA suggests, we have been working with the wider agricultural industry on areas of mutual interest for some time – the Soil Association is working with organic and non-organic farmers alike through field labs such as how to reduce the antibiotic treatment of mastitis.”

The association said RUMA was wrong to call the Soil Association’s campaigning ‘divisive and obstructive’ and said it ‘falsely claimed’ the association had failed to recognise the progress that has been made in recent years in reducing farm antibiotic use.

It said the fundraising appeal ‘explicitly welcomed the progress being made, highlighting for example the decision in 2016 to end routine preventative antibiotic use in the poultry industry, alongside various other voluntary and regulatory actions taken over the past decade’.

“Many of these steps have been at least partly motivated by the Soil Association’s campaign, which in recent years has been carried out as a leading member of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, co-founded with Compassion in World Farming and Sustain,” the association said.

“The Soil Association’s appeal, however, suggests that current and future partial reductions in farm antibiotic use risk being achieved without making any improvements to animal health and welfare, and says that far greater reductions would be achieved if genuine improvements are made to husbandry practices.

“For example, the appeal pointed out that later weaning of piglets (obligatory in organic systems, and in Sweden) could lead to much larger reductions in antibiotic use, as antibiotics are currently frequently used to control post-weaning diarrhoea caused by early weaning.”

The organic body said, rather than de-motivating the industry and setting back progress in cutting farm antibiotic use, campaigning by it and the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics has already contributed to reductions in antibiotic use in the agricultural industry.

Ruma said it had nothing to add to its original points.

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Editor of LBM titles Pig World and Farm Business and group editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer. National Pig Association's webmaster. Previously political editor at Farmers Guardian for many years and also worked Farmers Weekly. Occasional farming media pundit. Brought up on a Leicestershire farm, now work from a shed in the garden in Oxfordshire. Big fan of Leicester City and Leicester Tigers. Occasional cricketer.