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An antibiotic armageddon is nigh

News Icon 27/11/2015

We cannot afford to overlook the use of antibiotics in farm animals.

Antibiotic resistance has been hitting the headlines recently, as its impact is being felt across Europe.

I have for some time, been highlighting the severe risks of an ‘antibiotic armageddon’ which I fear may not be far away. Some antibiotics have already stopped being effective, and new antibiotics are increasingly hard to find.
In the EU, around 25,000 people a year die from resistant infections, and experts warn that this figure may reach one million by 2025.

Factory farmed animals are regularly given antibiotics in their feed or water because of the higher risk of disease when large numbers of animals are kept in inhumane, overcrowded conditions. There is strong evidence that this overuse of antibiotics in intensive farming is contributing to antibiotic resistance in human medicine.

We cannot afford to overlook farm antibiotic use if we are to have a chance of reversing resistance trends.

Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said: “Routinely dosing healthy animals on a purely preventative basis is something we simply cannot afford to do if we are to have a chance of preserving drugs for the future.

“If animals cannot remain healthy within the conditions in which they are placed, perhaps it is time to take a closer look at our farming systems.”

I could not agree with this statement more. There must be a fundamental change in our current farming model. Higher welfare conditions with good husbandry must be prioritised in order to reduce the need for antibiotics in the first place. Indiscriminate use of antibiotics to compensate for unsustainable farming practices must stop.

Following World Antibiotics Awareness Week (16-22 November), 20 senior representatives from health and medical organisations co-signed a letter, published in the Times, calling on the UK Government and European Commission to put an end to routine, purely preventative antibiotic use in groups of healthy animals - referred to as ‘inconsistent with all responsible-use guidance.’

Medical experts have now set out their wish for the current revision of the EU Veterinary Medicinal Products legislation to introduce a ban on the purely preventative treatment of groups of animals where no disease has been diagnosed.

Babulal Sethia, President of the Royal Society of Medicine said on signing the letter: “While GPs strive to curb prescribing practices, the farming sector also needs to move towards more selective antibiotic administration. The preventative treatment of groups of healthy animals when no disease has been diagnosed is not responsible use.”

At present, the European Commission proposals for the new Veterinary Medicinal Products legislation would allow routine preventative use to continue. Furthermore, despite the UK Government declaring it is opposed to routine preventative use of antibiotics in animals, it does not yet support proposals to end preventative treatment of groups of healthy animals. In contrast, the European Medicine Agency wants to end such group treatments but does not have the power to legislate for a ban.

Kerry McCarthy MP said: “I am pleased that members of the health and medical community have spoken up on this issue. Within the EU, groups of animals - mainly pigs or poultry - are often ‘mass-medicated’ through their water or feed. If we are to truly tackle the resistance problem, which the Prime Minister has said he is committed to, routine dosing of groups of healthy animals must stop.”

The overuse of antibiotics in farming threatens to reverse decades of medical advancement. It is therefore essential that an EU-wide strategy is developed which will be effective in reducing the overuse of antibiotics in farming before it is too late.

Disease should be prevented by keeping animals in higher welfare, non-intensive conditions, and not through routine preventative use of antibiotics.


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