The report, written by 26 international scientists and published in The Lancet, claimed the decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics in treating common infections had quickened in recent years as a result of high levels of antibiotic use worldwide.
It said that while many drivers of antibiotic consumption were based in human medicine, antibiotic use in veterinary medicine and for growth promotion was a “major contributing factor”.
“In the non-medical arenas of agriculture, aquaculture, and intensive farming, huge amounts of antibiotics are used – in some countries up to four-times the amount used in human medicine. There is little separation of the types of antibiotic used in human beings and animals,” it said.
The report warned that the world could face dire medical, social and economic setbacks “unless real and unprecedented global coordinated actions are immediately taken”, adding that these should include a worldwide ban on growth promoters in livestock production.
“In Denmark, the banning of growth promoters in livestock resulted in a net reduction of animal antibiotic use, with no or minor increases in production costs and without increased incidence of zoonotic infections in human beings,” it said.
Other livestock-related recommendations in the report included a phasing out of antibiotics for routine prevention of infection, closer monitoring of antimicrobials in animals and the development of “heath-orientated systems” for rearing animals to reduce the need for antibiotic use.
“The common goal should be to preserve the effect of antimicrobials for future generations of human beings, but also for animals. Antimicrobials should only be used when needed,” it said.
“Without effective treatment of serious diseases, mortality and morbidity would increase with negative effects on animal welfare. In the rearing of animals for food production, there would also be consequences for productivity and economy.”
The report was welcomed by UK organisation Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, which is campaigning for a reduction in antibiotic use in animal agriculture.
Tom MacMillan, director of innovation at the Soil Association – a member of the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics – said: “This startling new report shows that the routine use of preventative antibiotics in farm animals is something that needs to be phased out for the good of both animals and humans. The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics fully backs this dramatic call for political and industry leadership for healthier animal husbandry in order to avoid the risk of slipping back into the pre-antibiotic era.
“This comprehensive report shows we all must take responsibility for the antibiotic-resistance crisis. Doctors, vets, patients, farmers and consumers can all play their part. The role of politicians and regulators, however, is key to achieving real progress. If there was a cause for politicians to stand up and be counted, it is in backing every effort to avert this impending crisis of antibiotic resistance.”