A missed opportunity to hold the Government to account over antibiotic resistance.

In a report published today, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee adds its voice to the mounting concern about the rise of antimicrobial resistance, concluding that this ‘has the potential to send medicine back to the early 20th century, severely limiting the use of what are now considered basic and routine surgical procedures.’

The report calls for a twin track approach of using existing antibiotics more carefully to extend their effectiveness, and putting greater resources and effort into developing new treatments.

Andrew Miller MP, the Committee’s Chair said, ‘We heard concerns that antibiotics are often prescribed by GPs simply to achieve placebo effect or placate patients with distressing symptoms. In farming meanwhile, we suspect antibiotics may be routinely used on healthy animals.’

In relation to the NHS, the committee states, ‘Given the focus on antibiotic resistance since 2000, we found it difficult to understand how the Government has failed to act decisively to address the issue of inappropriate prescription of antibiotics’.

Yet, the committee failed to explore the reasons for this and its analysis, conclusions and recommendations are expressed in very general terms containing little with which to able to hold the Government to account in future.

The committee noted that antibiotic use in pigs and poultry in Nordic countries is 3-5 times lower than in the UK, yet it even failed to explore the reasons for this. The committee did not uncover the fact that in Nordic countries, like Denmark, drug companies pay fees to central government and regulators are funded by central government – there is no direct financial link, as there is in the UK.

Richard Young, Policy Director of the Sustainable Food Trust said, ‘While the report does contain a number of statements we very much welcome, overall it is a seriously missed opportunity to make food production more sustainable or health systems less vulnerable. And, it singularly fails to get to the rotten core of antibiotic regulation in the UK’.

The committee ignored evidence from the Sustainable Food Trust into the longstanding influence of the pharmaceutical industry on the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) and in particular the change made by the government in April 2011, when it made the situation worse, not better, by taking total responsibility for antimicrobial resistance policy development in relation to animals, away from ministers and handing it lock, stock and barrel to the VMD, which receives 80% of its income from industry and has an average of more than one meeting a week with pharmaceutical industry representatives.

Richard Young added, ‘This isn’t about corruption, or civil servants not following the rules, it’s about the long term insidious influence of the pharmaceutical and intensive livestock industries on the VMD’s attitude to antibiotic use on farms. Over the last 20 years to my knowledge it has dragged its feet on every possible occasion. This is what has prevented effective action being taken on the veterinary side and while it is not our area of expertise we suspect there are serious shortcomings on the medical side too. The situation is akin to the tobacco industry having direct daily access to the Prime Minister’s office and also paying his salary direct into his bank account.’

For further information, contact Richard Young, Policy Director of the Sustainable Food Trust.

Featured image by Reway2007

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