Antibiotic use in farm animals 'threatens human health'

"Farmers need to dramatically cut the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture, because of the threat to human health, a report says," according to BBC News.

The concern is agricultural antibiotic use is driving up levels of antibiotic resistance, leading to new "superbugs".

The report looked at resistance to antimicrobial drugs, which includes antibiotics as well as antifungal and antiparasitical drugs. Resistance to these drugs is collectively known as antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

The report is part of an ongoing review of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) commissioned by the British Prime Minister. This review aims to provide a set of recommendations on how to address AMR globally. 

The report (PDF, 737kb) was produced by an independent body chaired by the British economist Jim O'Neill. It looked specifically at antibiotic use in the environment and agriculture.

It focused mainly on the role regulation and financial measures such as taxation and subsidies could play in reducing the risks associated with the agricultural use of antimicrobials and environmental contamination.

The report included a literature review to identify papers describing the use of antibiotics in agriculture. A search was carried out in July 2015 to identify relevant literature, and each relevant study identified was categorised based on whether or not it provided evidence to support a ban on antibiotics in agriculture.

The wider review has published a number of reports covering, for example, the forecast economic impact of AMR, the need for research into new antimicrobial drugs and other steps, and the problem of the overuse of antibiotics.

There are also other reports set to be published on alternatives to conventional antibiotics, the role of sanitation and infection prevention, and control measures in reducing the global burden of drug resistance. 

The report made a range of observations:

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The higher use of antimicrobials in animals drives increased drug resistance – just like it does in humans – as the microbes are exposed to the drugs used to treat them more often.

The report raises three main risks associated with the high levels of antimicrobial use in food production:

The report does not specifically mention rare meat, which has been focused on in some of the news coverage.

The news mainly focuses on the possible contamination of this section of the food chain, rather than the wider environmental risks.  

The review made three key recommendations for global action to reduce the risks described:

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