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New UK Report Supports Strong Action on Antibiotics in Ag

May 20, 2016
Center for Food Safety

United States lagging behind in setting standards for curbing antibiotic resistance. 

WASHINGTON— A report commissioned by the government of the United Kingdom recommends reducing “the extensive and unnecessary use of antibiotics in agriculture” in order to curb the global spread of infections. The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance released its final report this week, calling for quick movement to ban or restrict the use of antibiotics in animals that are vital for human health, among other measures.

According to the report, it is estimated that 700,000 people die each year, globally, from antibiotic-resistant infections, and that number is expected to rise to 10 million per year by 2050 without appropriate action. Authors of the report advocate for a massive global public awareness campaign “so that patients and farmers do not demand, and clinicians and veterinarians do not prescribe, antibiotics when they are not needed.”

“We have long called for stronger action in the U.S. to address the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in animals raised for food, and this report should be a wake-up call to policymakers,” said Cameron Harsh, Senior Manager for Organic and Animal Policy at Center for Food Safety. “Continuously dosing animals with unnecessary antibiotics – like those used to promote rapid growth – develops resistance among harmful bacteria and diminishes the effectiveness of the drugs when we actually need them to fight life-threatening infections in people and animals.”

Conclusive science shows that the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics in animals raised for food contributes to the spread of drug-resistant infections that threaten public health. But the United States’ National Action Plan on Combatting Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria fails to adequately stress the importance of antibiotic stewardship in agriculture. Instead, it relies on voluntary guidance issued by FDA that allows producers to continue providing low doses of antibiotics to animals to keep them from getting sick in the confined, crowded and unsanitary conditions common in intensive facilities like CAFOs. It also does not prevent producers from using non-medically important antibiotics.

“This new report urges proactive steps to curb the use of antibiotics in agriculture, including setting clear targets for reduction, a step not yet taken here in the U.S. It is shameful that our government continues to cater to the large-scale livestock industry and allow continued overuse of antibiotics on farms. This is not only disastrous for disease control and food safety, but encourages unsanitary, unethical treatment of animals raised for food,” said Harsh.

The report makes only minor mention of the importance of improving farming practices as a strategy to reduce reliance on antibiotics. The absence of messaging on high welfare practices weakens efforts to reduce on-farm use of antibiotics. Management practices that promote the health and well-being of the animals, such as allowing for natural growth rates and providing high-quality feeds, access to the outdoors, adequate space, and clean facilities, can reduce the need for preventative antibiotics and their use in agriculture overall.

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