Government warned to act on antibiotics use

The government has been urged to tackle the problem of antibiotics resistance by changing the law to prevent overuse on farms, says the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics.

The advice from the Alliance comes after the chief medical officer warned of a threat posed by rising levels of antibiotic resistance.

Although the warning was welcomed, the report titled Antibiotic resistance - the impact of intensive farming on human health, published today, shows the government is not taking measures to tackle the problem. The government claims there is no conclusive evidence to prove that overuse of antibiotics on farms contributes to resistance in human infections.

Antibiotics are currently used as prevention or for the treatment of avoidable outbreaks on many livestock farms.

Soil Association policy adviser Richard Young stated: "We need a complete change of attitude within Defra and the livestock industry. Antibiotics should only be used when animals become ill and not given to large groups of healthy animals as a cheap insurance policy."

However, the Alliance showed that "for some human infections, such as salmonella and campylobacter, farm antibiotic use is the principal cause of resistance". It further stated that for E.coli and enterococci, it contributes significantly to human treatment problems.

Another major concern is the increased farm use of modern cephalosporins and fluoroquinolones – two classes of antibiotics that are classified as "critically important in human medicine" by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Young added: "The overuse of antibiotics in human medicine is a major problem that has to be addressed. But this must not blind us to the fact that the high use of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming is already causing treatment failures in human infections, and the situation will only get worse if nothing is done."

The British government advisers have stated that by reducing the use of antibiotics, production costs will increase. This goes against other countries’ policies, as Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden have already significantly reduced the use. Germany, France and Belgium are due to join them soon.

The Alliance calls on the government to recognise the scientific evidence and has outlined proposals that will help the process.

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