The Soil Association is calling on Defra and the devolved administrations to take the threat from of a new type of antibiotic-resistant E.coli on British farms as seriously as it takes Foot and Mouth and Blue Tongue diseases.
This follows a Sunday Times report and and yesterday's ITV's Tonight with Trevor McDonald on the subject.
The Soil Association says it can reveal that the government claims that "It has not been thought appropriate to place restrictions on any animals on the farms involved".
It said no information has been made available on the sale of such animals in England, but in March last year the minister for Environment, Planning and Countryside and the minister for Health and Social Services in Wales agreed to the sale of 600 cows and 200 heifers from the first affected dairy farm in Wales, where the incidence of ESBL E.coli was still increasing, despite acknowledging that "if this goes ahead this will disseminate these antimicrobial resistant strains of E.coli UK wide".
In last weekend's Sunday Times it was reported levels of infection in humans from ESBL E.coli have risen dramatically in the UK over the last few years. Approximately 30,000 people are now being infected in the UK annually. Recent trends suggest that numbers are still rising quickly.
The problem is believed to have arisen due to the high use of certain antibiotics in intensive farming and despite its protests the Soil Association says the Government has doggedly refused to ban the advertising of suspected antibiotics in the farming press.
In human medicine, just two classes of antibiotics are still effective against these infections, but they are not suitable in all cases and recent research, reported in the Sunday Times indicates that 10-14% of people who catch an ESBL strain will die within 30 days.
Soil Association Policy Adviser Richard Young, said, "It's about time the Government came clean and told us the full story. It is incredible that while Defra can impose movement restrictions across the country and slaughter whole herds to stop the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease, which poses no real threat to humans, it is not willing to impose any restrictions on the sale of animals carrying these resistant bugs, even though they could contribute to the deaths of thousands of people."
"At the moment this problem still only affects a small number of farms in the UK and while we recognise that more research is needed we cannot wait for this before taking action. It is vital that urgent action is taken and all efforts are made to prevent this serious problem spreading more widely on British farms."