Report highlights antibiotic overuse in food production

| December 8, 2015

chickensA newly published paper by the UK independent Review on Antimicrobial Resistance has warned that the use of antmicrobials in agriculture is driving the development of resistant bacteria and should be restricted for antibiotics used to treat humans.

The independent Review, chaired by economist Jim O’Neill and hosted by the Wellcome Trust, was commissioned by the UK Prime Minister with the aim of producing a package of recommendations to tackle antimicrobial resistance on a global scale. It is publishing a series of papers on different aspects of the topic.

The latest paper – Antimicrobials in Agriculture and the Environment: Reducing Unnecessary Use and Waste – looks at how antimicrobial drugs are used in food production. Based on 139 academic studies of antibiotic use in agriculture, it reveals that in some parts of the world, more antibiotics are used in animals than in humans. For example, in the USA, more than 70% of medically important antibiotics are destined for animal use.

It also concludes that agricultural use is likely to rise significantly, especially as meat production grows in emerging economies, such as Brazil, China and India. The use of antimicrobials as growth promoters in intensive meat production systems is seen as a particular problem.

The Review paper states that there is a clear link between higher use of antibiotics in agriculture and drug resistance, because bacteria are more likely to be exposed to drugs used to treat infections. The transmission of resistant bacteria through the food chain then becomes a potential risk.

The paper makes a series of broad recommendations to address the overuse of antimicrobials in agriculture. One is reduce their use in food production to an agreed global target level per kilogram of livestock and fish and restrict the use of clinically important drugs. The Review also wants to see minimum standards to reduce the release of antimicrobial manufacturing waste into the environment and improved surveillance to monitor progress against global targets.

The new Review paper can be downloaded in full here.

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