Antibiotic target for meat producers needed, report says

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

UK body National Farmers Union: antibiotics restriction could have 'detrimental impact'
UK body National Farmers Union: antibiotics restriction could have 'detrimental impact'

Related tags Antibiotics Antibiotic resistance Beef Lamb Pork Poultry

Farmers worldwide have been urged to cut the use of antibiotics in livestock, because of the risk it poses to human health, says a report. 

Thanks to the high use of antibiotics in farming,a bacteria resistant to colistin – a drug used as a last resort - has been discovered. This means infections in animals could become impossible to treat and may spread to humans. As a result of this, new targets on the use of antibiotics in agriculture are desperately needed, according to a report by The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance published on 8 December.

The report suggested farmers should use 50mg of antibiotics for every 1kg of livestock, and also claimed Denmark – one of the Europe’s largest pork exporters – had already achieved this target.

The report analysed antimicrobials and antifungals used in livestock production of beef, pork and poultry, as well as fish farming and crop growing.

It found that 70% of antibiotics imported by the US were used for industrial farming.

Antibiotic ambiguity 

However, it is difficult to empirically and accurately measure the global use of antibiotics in agriculture as a result of poor surveillance and data collection.

As such, figures on antimicrobial use vary substantially and two studies from 2015 published very different results: the National Academy of Sciences put the figure of antimicrobial use at 63,000 tonnes (t), while the International Livestock Research Institute said it was closer to 240,000t.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) chief adviser for animal health and welfare Catherine McLaughlin voiced her dissatisfaction of the report, saying: “The NFU is disappointed with the lack of context and consultation in the independent Review of Antimicrobial Resistance.

'Antibiotics should be used' 

As part of RUMA, an independent non-profit group involving organisations that represent all stages of the food chain from farm to fork, the NFU believes that responsible use of antibiotics in British farming is crucial for the industry to maintain high levels of animal health and welfare. Traceability, transparency and accountability at all stages in the chain are at the centre of these high standards.​”

McLaughlin added: “Arbitrary restrictions on the use of antibiotics and various other pharmaceutical products such as fungicides could have a detrimental impact on animal and plant health. Antibiotics should be used in a responsible manner – as little as possible but as much as needed​.”

China is the world’s biggest user of antibiotics in industrialised farming, according to a study by the US-based Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

Growth-promoting antibiotics in farming have been illegal in the EU since 2006, but medicinal use is permitted.

Speaking about the use of antibiotics in British farming, a government spokesman for the UK Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), said: “Reducing the risk of animals developing antibiotic resistance is essential to ensure these medicines are effective in the fight against disease. That is why we are ensuring antibiotics are only used on farms when absolutely necessary.​”

The UK also has one of the best surveillance systems in the world to monitor the use of antibiotics, and tackling this growing resistance to antibiotics is one of the Government's top priorities​”.

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