Senior medics call on Government to ban preventative antibiotic group treatments of livestock
Ten senior medics have today (16 November) written to the UK Government calling on it to place public health at the heart of its farm antibiotic policies and to commit unequivocally to banning preventative antibiotic group treatments in livestock.
Signatories to the letter include the Presidents or leading spokespeople of the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Surgeons and Royal College of Physicians. Also included among the signatories are the Editors in Chief of leading medical scientific journals, the British Medical Journal and The Lancet.
Coordinated by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, the letter comes just weeks after the European Parliament voted by over 97% for new legislation which will ban preventative antibiotic treatments of groups of farm animals in the EU in three years’ time.
The Government says it supports the legislation but has repeatedly refused to endorse any ban on group prevention in the UK and says it will work with stakeholders to agree how to implement the regulation in practice in the UK.
Cóilín Nunan, Scientific Advisor to the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “If the government fails to implement a ban on group prevention, the UK will have some of the lowest regulatory standards in Europe and will be aligning itself with the US administration’s position, which is to strongly oppose the European ban. This should raise alarm bells about the kind of post-Brexit trade deal the UK may agree with the US, where antibiotics are used in enormous quantities in livestock.”
According to new Alliance calculations, the use of antibiotics in US farming is six times higher per livestock unit than in the UK. Antibiotic use in US cattle is 13 times higher, six times higher for chickens and 2.5 times higher for pigs than in the UK.
A recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has forecast that unless action is taken to halt the rise in antibiotic-resistant infections, 90,000 Britons and 1.4 million Europeans will die from antibiotic-resistant superbugs by 2050. Most resistance in human medicine comes from the medical use of antibiotics, but farm antibiotic use contributes significantly to the problem.
Professor John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health, said: “A future world where bugs are all resistant to antibiotics will return us to the dark days of ineffective healthcare and condemn many to early deaths. Animal health and human health must be equally protected to save our antibiotics- that is why we are making this call on government.
“In the post Brexit world, it will be even more vital that we increase our standards on antibiotics use by doctors and farmers so that the UK is a world leader, saving our antibiotics to save lives in future.”
Farm antibiotic use has been cut significantly in the UK in recent years, but worldwide it is estimated that 73% of all antibiotics are used in livestock rather than in medicine.
Most farm antibiotic use occurs in intensive farming systems, where animals are kept in close confinement, and disease incidence is high. According to the European Food Safety Authority and the European Medicines Agency, there may be a need to phase out certain intensive farming systems where antibiotic use cannot be reduced sustainably.