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Farm antibiotics 'creating super-bugs'

The Ecologist

15th January 2014

Evidence presented to a Parliamentary select committee shows that excessive use of antibiotics on farms has led to the evolution of three antibiotic-resistant superbugs since 1998.

Despite recognizing the seriousness of the issue, the UK Government seems unwilling to end the continuing routine use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals.

 

Evidence presented to the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology shows that farm antibiotic use has been responsible for the development of at least three new superbugs that infect humans since 1998.

It has also contributed to increasing levels of antibiotic resistance in five other life-threatening types of infection. The evidence, submitted by the Sustainable Food Trust (SFT) has been published on the Parliament website.

Major cause of health concern

The SFT evidence states that the rise of antimicrobial resistance caused by the overuse of antibiotics is increasingly recognized as a major cause for concern.

This is because drug resistance is increasing faster than the supply of new antibiotics. No new antibiotics are under development for some serious infections. And treatment failures are already occurring.

SFT Policy Director Richard Young commented: "The SFT is particularly concerned that we reduce the levels of antibiotic resistance genes in food that pass to the E. coli in our intestines and cause an estimated one million urinary tract infections in the UK every year, and 40,000 cases of blood poisoning.

If we fail it will not be long before we see the emergence of untreatable strains of gonorrhea, because antibiotic resistance can pass to it from E. coli. 

"But despite recognizing the seriousness of the issue, the UK Government seems unwilling to end the continuing routine use of antibiotics in healthy farm animals."

Key recommendations

The SFT calls for a new strategy to tackle the problem. The key recommendations are:

 

  1. "The strategy should contain a commitment to phase out the routine preventative use of antimicrobials in animals where no disease is present and impose restrictions on the use of modern cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones in particular."
  2. "The structure, role and responsibilities of the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) need to be reviewed."
  3. "There is a need for an independent, permanent, over-arching scientific committee to be responsible for advising Ministers on all aspects of antimicrobial use and resistance covering both human and veterinary medicine."
  4. "There is also a need for ongoing Parliamentary scrutiny of the Government's efforts to address these issues and react in a timely manner to emerging issues."

 

It notes that House of Lords Science and Technology committee made far-reaching and important recommendations in 1998, but "failed to keep an eye on the situation after 2001."

As regards the VMD, responsibility for antimicrobial resistance in farm animals and policy on veterinary medicines was taken from Defra and handed to the VMD in 2011.

"This raises a wide range of issues, because the funding structure of the VMD means that it needs to attract an increasing share of industry funding for EU licensing work. This makes it institutionally vulnerable to industry lobbying and pressure."

 

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