THE Government's chief medical officer has warned that heavy use of antibiotics in livestock farming, as well as in general medicine, is a threat to human health.
Sir Liam Donaldson wrote in his annual report that "every unnecessary prescription written by a doctor, every uncompleted course of antibiotics and every inappropriate or unnecessary use in animals or agriculture is potentially a death warrant for a future patient."
Use of antibiotics encouraged resistant bugs to flourish at the expense of less aggressive strains and cut the range of medicines still working – and the pharmaceuticals industry did not make new antibiotics fast enough to keep up, said Sir Liam.
He summed up: "The potency of one of the key weapons in the medical armoury is being eroded. The harm caused by each prescription is not visible at the time so society fails to take action."
When he published his report, last week, everyone concentrated on what he had to say about alcohol.
But campaigners against industrialised farming picked up on his call for a clampdown on antibiotics use and quoted it in a letter to Prime Minister Gordon Brown yesterday, in the course of drawing attention to a new strain of the "superbug" MRSA.
The Soil Association and Compassion In World Farming have posted a new film on the internet, Sick As A Pig, which argues that an MRSA bug known as ST398 has been transmitted to humans from pigs reared in intensive conditions in the Netherlands.
It is resistant to oxytetracycline, which is important against MRSA in humans.
A handful of human cases was identified last year in Scotland.
But a Defra spokeswoman said yesterday: "At this stage we have no evidence which suggests that we should change our policy on national surveillance."