Animal Aid

Animal Aid demands proper audit of antibiotic use in factory farms

Posted 12 June 2013

Antibiotic overuse will be on the agenda at next week’s G8 summit of leading industrial nations, with the UK government set to publish its antimicrobial resistance strategy next month.

Recent studies add to the growing body of evidence demonstrating that the overuse of antibiotics in intensive animal farming is leading to the evolution of strains of dangerous bacteria, and that drug-resistant ‘superbugs’ can be introduced into the human population by farm workers, as well as into the food chain through infected meat.

Christopher Thomas, professor of molecular genetics at Birmingham University, told the Guardian newspaper (June 12): ‘There is a lot of worry about whether we should be using the same antibiotics on a farm as we do in [human] clinics, as the resistance developed on farms could spread to humans. However good your hygiene [on farms], it is inevitable that resistant bacteria bred on the farm will get to humans.’

Unlike in people, detailed data on the use of antibiotics in farmed animals is not kept. It is impossible to tell how many animals are being treated, for what diseases, and whether the drugs are being used with the intention of preventing disease or as treatments for existing conditions. The only data available is the total annual tonnage of antibiotics sold for agricultural use.

The seriousness of the threat posed to human health was set out in May by the government’s Chief Medical Officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies: ‘…if we don't take action, in 20 years' time we could be back in the 19th century where infections kill us as a result of routine operations’.

The contribution to this problem by farmers administering antibiotics to animals was made clear last March by Dr Margaret Chan, the director general of the World Health Organisation: ‘Worldwide, the fact that greater quantities of antibiotics are used in healthy animals than in unhealthy humans is a cause for great concern.’

Dr Chan has also warned of a ‘post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated’.

Animal Aid has written to the government calling for strict monitoring and record keeping of antibiotic use on factory farms, and for an action plan targeted at dramatically reducing such use.

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