Report calls for solutions to antibiotic resistance

The Soil Association has said a new report means immediate action from human and veterinary medicine is needed in the face of the “growing crisis” of antibiotic-resistance.

Published in The Lancet this week, the report, entitled ‘Antibiotic resistance – the need for global solutions’ was produced by 26 of the world’s leading scientists and was welcomed by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics (ASOA).

ASOA has claimed the report has linked the overuse of antibiotics in agriculture with the overuse in humans for the first time. “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,” scientists said in the report.

Likely to spread to humans

According to the Soil Association, the report has also claimed that any increase in antibiotic resistance in farm animals is likely to spread to humans and will negatively impact farm animal welfare, since some diseases will eventually be untreatable.

The organisation said the report recommended that the routine use of preventative antibiotics should be phased-out. As a result, they have called for a change to animal husbandry and the need for “health-orientated” animal rearing systems to be developed, which should not rely on “high levels of antibiotic use”.

Early indications, the Soil Association said, suggest antibiotic resistance will be detrimental to current modern medicine achievements, “such as major surgery, organ transplantation, treatment of pre-term babies, and cancer chemotherapy”.

Acknowledge environment and health link

They urged the agricultural and human health sectors to acknowledge that human health, animal health and the environment are all interlinked. They said it was the responsibility of all stakeholders to deal with the problems.

Scientists on the report, meanwhile, 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 the economy.

“Eventually, the spread of resistance [in farm animals] could lead to a local food security problem with negative effects on public health.”

Three recommendations

As a result of the report’s findings, ASOA has made three recommendations to the government, one of which urges Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) scientists to accept that “antibiotics are used in farming primarily for commercial reasons, to deliver cheaper meat and milk”.

The ASOA has also asked that the government makes the routine and preventative use of antibiotics illegal, rather than disapproving it. Finally, it asked that animal husbandry changes, with farmers and government working together to cut down on the amount of animals kept in “intensive, unhygienic conditions”.

Director of innovation at the Soil Association Tom MacMillan spoke on behalf of ASOA and said: “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.”

Meanwhile, Philip Lymbery, CEO of Compassion in World Farming, said: “It’s past time that the government recognises the growing crisis of antibiotic resistance. Action needs to be taken now to stop the impending catastrophe.”