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expert reaction to antibiotics and methane from cows

Agriculture contributes a large amount to greenhouse gase emissions and climate change from a range of sources and a research group publishing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B journal has reported that antibiotics (used to improve livestock health and growth) can increase methane emissions.


Prof. Tim Morris, University of Nottingham School of Veterinary Medicine and Science:

“It is not surprising that treatment with an antibiotic of an animal such as a cow, which relies on a mass of bacteria in its gut to digest its diet, may then have significant effects on the animal and its environment.

“It is also important to recognise, as did the recent O’Neill report, that radical changes are required to stop the routine non-clinical misuse of antibiotics in agriculture.

“But this publication starts with the assertion that ‘Antibiotics are routinely used to improve livestock health and growth’ which is misleading for cattle production across the UK, particularly with this country’s emphasis on extensive forage based production systems as compared to feedlots and similar than may be found elsewhere. Even in dairy cattle non-antibiotic approaches, such as to treat and prevent udder infections, are increasingly used.

“Antibiotic misuse needs curbing for many reasons, and the findings in this paper are important where they are being misused. However, without undue complacency, these findings should neither distract from more pressing priorities to curb antibiotic use or be themselves inappropriately misused on wider questions on cattle and agriculture in the systems used across the UK.”


‘Treating cattle with antibiotics affects greenhouse gas emissions, and microbiota in dung and dung beetles’ by Tobin J. Hammer et al. published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B on Wednesday 25 May 2016. 


Declared interests

Prof. Morris is a non-executive member of the Animal Health and Welfare Board for England

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