G8 science ministers discuss on-farm antibiotic use

Eight science ministers from the world’s wealthiest nations met in London yesterday to discuss antibiotic resistance, among other pressing issues.

The meeting at the Royal Society in London, the first to be held in five years, gave way to the topic of the rise in “superbug” immunity to current antibiotics.

According to experts and various reports, everyday infections could be untreatable as a result of the claimed overuse of antibiotics in the treatment of both humans and food animals.   

Speaking before the meeting yesterday Science minister David Willetts said he wanted to discuss how governments could work with each other to create new antibiotics and how they could be used more effectively. “I want to discuss with my G8 counterparts how we can better address the issue of antibiotic resistance, drawing on the expertise of our science and research bases to speed up the introduction of new drugs.

“Open data and open access to research are also important international issues that I want to see progress on. They are fundamental to the government’s transparency agenda and will speed up scientific discovery and drive growth,” he said.

Of Willett's raising the issue of antimicrobial resistance with G8 science ministers, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA) Peter Jones said he was very pleased. Adding: "We know that veterinary use of antimicrobials is well regulated in the UK and Europe, but this is not necessarily the case across the globe.

"Irresponsible use of antimicrobials in both humans and animals can lead to resistance and ultimately these vital medicines becoming ineffective."

Commenting on the summit, the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) secretary general John FitzGerald said he welcomed the call for the G8 to discuss the spread of antibiotic resistance.

“However, RUMA does not support a ban on all antibiotics in food production, as this would be detrimental to animal health and welfare. All medicines on-farm should be used as little as possible and as much as necessary. This means managing farms to minimise the risk of disease and using medicines only when required and then using them appropriately,” he urged.

According to FitzGerald a reduction in dosage or treatment length to meet targets is not a responsible use of antibiotics either and he said it would only increase the risk of resistance.

“Antibiotic resistance is a complex issue and all groups need to work together to develop decisions based on sound science to manage the risks, while allowing the optimum benefit to be gained from the use of antibiotics to treat humans and animals,” he added.

The group will publish an antimicrobial resistance strategy next month.