Monday, 23 May 2011

Overuse of drugs in animal farming linked to growing antibiotic-resistance in humans

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The influenital magazine “The Ecologist” has published an important article on antibiotic overuse in livestock.

The figures quoted for antimicrobial use are from British government vets: the source carries the following legend:

There is no central record kept of the use of antimicrobials in animal in the UK. However it is reasonable to assume that there is a direct relationship between the quantities of antimicrobials sold and used in the UK. Our assessment does not include any measure of the quality or the degree of uncertainty for the figures reported.”

Highlights from "The Ecologist" article, which can be read in full here

Overuse of drugs in animal farming linked to growing antibiotic-resistance in humans

Tom Levitt
23rd May, 2011

Urgent calls from health experts to reduce antibiotic use on intensive farms are largely resisted by the agribusiness food lobby, who downplay its role in the spread of antibiotic resistance in humans. Tom Levitt reports

It is described as the most 'serious global crisis' yet in the farming industry no-one is talking in such terms.

Around one half of all antibiotics in Europe are prescribed for animals...

...The overuse comes at a cost as it contributes to an ever-increasing amount of antimicrobial resistance as bacteria evolve to withstand existing antibiotics. What's more there is now evidence these resistant bacteria are being transferred to humans via the food chain - putting us at risk of more untreatable infections...

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says drug use in farm animals plays a 'significant role' in spreading antibiotic-resistant salmonella and campylobacter infections in humans while EU food safety officials say it could also be a source of some antibiotic-resistant strains of MRSA and E.coli - both potentially life-threatening infections - and, in the case of E.coli, a new highly resistant type of which was recently found on a large number of dairy, pig and poultry farms in England and Wales.

Dutch scientists recently went as far as estimating that between a third and one half of resistance in human infections in the Netherlands originated from farm animals. Although the figure is estimated to be lower in the UK, agriculture is believed to now account for the majority of antibiotic-resistance in food poisoning cases.
Despite this concern, efforts to reduce the use of antibiotics in animals, particularly on intensive pig and poultry farms, remain muted...

...In the UK, government vets estimated that 350 tonnes of antibiotics were used on farm animals in 2009. The vast majority, 95 per cent or more, in the pig and poultry sectors and the rest largely in dairy farming...

...In Europe the use of antibiotics as growth promoters may be banned but the antibiotics themselves are still able to be prescribed by a vet. For example, sales of tetracyclines, formerly used as a growth promoter (and still is in the US) despite its importance in treating infection in humans, remained at 45-55 per cent of antimicrobial sales to farmers in the UK in each year from 2004 to 2009. ..
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... Unsurprisingly, the farms administering the highest quantities of drugs were the large conventional pig and poultry units. ...

...Campaign groups like the Soil Association say both the farming industry and government are downplaying the need to dramatically reduce antibiotic use in farm animals...

...In fact, like the US, the UK has deliberately shied away from attempts to reduce antibiotic-use in farming....

...There are signs the EU will try to bring in tougher regulations as part of its new animal health strategy, due later this year. MEPs recently called for a crackdown on antibiotic use saying food was emerging as, 'an important vector for transmitting antimicrobial resistance through antibiotic residue in meat'. They said it was time for a more 'rational use' of antibiotics by farmers, which would mean greater focus on alternatives such as improved hygiene, vaccination and breeding for resistance.