A recent report from the OECD suggests that super-bug infections will kill around 2.4 million people across Europe, North America and Australia by 2050 unless more is done to limit drug-resistant super bugs. Health officials in England launched a campaign to try to prevent people from asking for the drugs when they do not need them. These developments are likely to increase the pressure on the livestock sector to reduce the use of antibiotics and the risk of antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The use of antibiotics in livestock has been back in the news in both the US and the UK in the light of contrasting data on farm antibiotic use. Antibiotic use in the US pig sector is still at “unacceptable” levels according to recent data and this has prompted a fresh debate on the role of antibiotics in agriculture. Meanwhile in the UK sales of antibiotics for animals have fallen to their lowest levels since 1993 with a fall of 18% between 2016 and 2017. According to The UK’s Chief Veterinary Officer, Christine Middlemiss, this is the result of year-on-year improvement in training, stewardship, stockmanship and disease control.
Tests on thousands of meat samples carried out by the US Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) show that farm animals are still being dosed with powerful antibiotics classified as “critically important” to human health. Activists claim that US farmers are still able to use antibiotics targeted by the ban in much the same way today as they could beforehand, including drugs previously used for growth promotion. Meanwhile the industry has claimed that it is difficult to make proper conclusions from the data so far which only indicate the presence of antibiotics, but not why they were administered.
The 2017 FDA regulations brought the US in line with rules the EU has had in place for years; the use of antibiotics as growth promoters was banned inside the EU in 2006 but it took years to effectively reduce the use of these drugs, thus it will take time for the US legislation to have an impact. Accurate data on antibiotic use in farm animals is crucial in the fight against antibiotic resistance, and the preservation of antibiotics for human health, it’s also important to understand why antibiotics have been administered, as well as how much. The FDA is plans to release data on pharmaceutical sales for animal antibiotics for 2017 this December, which will give more indication as to how well or not the new regulations are working.
However, on the 25th October the EU parliament banned the prophylactic use of antibiotics in agriculture, this goes further than the existing ban on the use of antibiotics as a growth promoter which can into force in 2006. The UK says it intends to implement the provisions of the new legislation, despite Brexit and having voiced concerns over the legislation. However the US refuses to accept that the EU legislation completely bans preventative treatments. The UK Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate says the legislation is ambiguous and does not restrict the administration of preventative treatments to individual animals. The UK Minister, Michael Gove said that the government will “work constructively with stakeholders to agree how these restrictions can be implemented in practice”. Whatever the outcome it is clear that AMR is one thing livestock farmers and many others will need to be concerned about for some time to come.