A review on antimicrobial resistance warns that antibiotic use on animals outweighs that on humans in many countries, posing health risk
Antibiotic resistance has been a growing concern. However, it’s not just from people failing to complete their full course of antibiotics. Another issue is the use of antibiotics in agriculture which is occurring on a large scale and posing a huge risk to drug resistance in humans.
‘The use of antibiotics in agriculture is fuelling drug resistance and must be cut back or even banned where they are important for humans, a report commissioned by David Cameron has warned. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance said global use of antimicrobials in food production at least matched that by humans, extending even to the widespread application in some areas of “last resort” antibiotics for humans – which cannot be replaced when ineffective – to animals.’
Animals as well require antibiotics in the same way that humans do. Unfortunately, they are being used excessively and inappropriately. Such uses can include the hastening of weight gain in animals or as a preventative measure to protect a whole herd from contracting infection.
‘Jim O’Neill, the economist and former chairman of Goldman Sachs Asset Management who is chairing the review, said: “I find it staggering that in many countries, most of the consumption of antibiotics is in animals rather than humans. This creates a big resistance risk for everyone, which was highlighted by the recent Chinese finding of resistance to colistin, an important last-resort antibiotic that has been used extensively in animals.’
So what can we do about this? The use of antibiotics in agriculture must be decreased which will likely require some form of regulation that indicates legal levels of use.
‘As we’ve highlighted, most of the scientific research provides evidence to support curtailing antibiotic use in agriculture. It’s time for policymakers to act on this. We need to radically reduce global use of antibiotics, and to do this we need world leaders to agree to an ambitious target to lower levels, along with restricting the use of antibiotics important to humans.
The panel of experts undertook a review of 139 academic studies on antibiotic use in agriculture and found that only seven found no link between consumption in animals and resistance in humans, while 100 found evidence of a link. They argue therefore that there should be a limit for each country to reduce antibiotic use in food production to an agreed level per kilogram of livestock and fish.’
Another concern is waste making its way into our water systems.
‘The experts also raise concerns over pollution during the manufacture of antimicrobials for human or veterinary use through waste products being discharged into water courses, a process it says could carry “a particular risk for resistance, because the concentrations of antimicrobials found in such scenarios can be many thousands, or even millions, of times higher than at sewage sites, for example.’
This is a serious concern that must be addressed and that awareness should be raised for. Effective medication is essential to the health and safety of our population. This must be the first priority over the interests of manufacturers.
‘Nicholas Stern, president of the British Academy, said: “The routine and regular pumping of antibiotics into animals is deeply dangerous in that it creates resistance to drugs that are key to modern medicine and key to our lives and livelihoods. It is a classic example of short-term private interest in conflict with medium-term public good. In this case, the private gains are modest and the public damage is huge. It requires coordinated public action.’