Consumers International have just released a set of recommendations on antibiotic use for farm animals. The use of antibiotics in agriculture constitutes half of all antibiotics prescribed. It is significantly contributing to the rise of AMR (antimicrobial resistance) in a range of dangerous pathogens, including Campylobacter, E-coli and Salmonella among many others. More concerning is that resistance to ‘last-line’ antibiotics has also been found widely in farm animals. There is proven evidence that resistant strains of pathogens can transfer easily from animals to humans.

The paper briefly outlines a list of measures that need to be implemented across the globe on both a governmental and supra-governmental level (across governments) to better manage the use of antibiotics in animals and to stem the spread of AMR. Consumers International points out that only 29 of 92 World Health Organisation (WHO) Member States have national action plans on managing antibiotic resistance. It further details a long list of areas where government has a key role to play in stopping the spread of AMR – strengthening regulation around the use of antibiotics in animals; monitoring and standardising data collection on AMR; raising awareness and increasing knowledge of the dangers of AMR in animals among both professionals and the general public; and, significantly, changing the conditions for animals in farming that have encouraged an overuse of antibiotics – overcrowding, poor hygiene, inappropriate feed.

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That antibiotics are used as a growth hormone in industrialised farming systems is a marker of just how widely they have been misused. Antibiotics have been an over-the-counter drug in farming for many years now, available to farmers largely without a prescription to use at their discretion. This is only now beginning to change as the alarm is raised on antibiotic resistance and its potential consequences.

Antibiotic resistance is probably the most significant public health threat facing the world today. Even if the development of new antibiotics increases significantly, we are already well down the road to widespread AMR in humans and animals. The paper opens with a sobering quote from Margaret Chan, director general of WHO, commenting, ‘A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it.’ All the things that we now take for granted – routine operations like c-sections, hip replacements, resetting broken arms and legs and all the minor infections that we suffer from, immediately become life-threatening. Dangerous infections and illnesses become untreatable. Death rates would sky-rocket. It is truly an apocalyptic scenario. So no surprise that WHO, the CDC (Center for Disease Control), Britain’s Chief Medical Officer and other health organisations are speaking out on antibiotics and urging stronger legislative controls over their use in humans and animals.

The one area in farming where AMR is low is organic farming, where antibiotics are used only on very sick animals and never used as a growth hormone or prophylactically to control disease. As consumers, there is little you can do to influence the spread of AMR in farm animals except by choosing meat where antibiotics haven’t been used as a growth hormone or to control the spread of disease. Consumers International are asking food manufacturers, retailers and restaurant chains not to use meat treated with antibiotics, but it’s important for individual consumers to reinforce this by doing the same. Let your voice be heard on this most critical issue.

Click here to read the full report.

Feature image by David Oliver, chicken by Compassion in World Farming

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  • OliverDowding

    This is a massive topic, and one which farmers need to take very seriously. There is clearly a world of difference between those using antibiotics to speed up growth, which is much worse in America than in the UK, and those using antibiotics to treat disease. Of course, sometimes disease comes as a consequence of poor husbandry approach, or overstocking.

    It would be a major breakthrough if we saw people appreciating the potential of alternative methods of controlling disease, and approach such with an open mind.

    For me, one of the best parts of organic dairy farming, over 15 years, was the successful use of homoeopathy. A variety of members of staff, including students, were treating 300 dairy cows and 200 followers were necessary, with an extremely high success rate. We were treating all manner of diseases and ailments. There are some nerdy sceptics who like to think that the animals would have got better anyway, and I’ve even had those who have been medically trained (actual doctors and professors!) deny there is any potential for homoeopathy to have any impact, and that the animals would have got better regardless of what I’d done.

    If anyone is in doubt about the potential for homoeopathy, just take a look at the Indian experience. 500,000 registered homoeopaths, being added to that the rate of 20,000 per year. They have 185 homoeopathic colleges in the country and 11,000 homoeopathic beds.

  • Henry Gent

    Many organic dairy farmers in the UK are now using very little antibiotics. In our own case we have taken many years of year on year improvements, to get to that position.