The dramatic increase in use of antibiotics by farmers over the past decade may be spreading antibiotic-resistant bugs from farm animals to the food chain.
Veterinary scientists at a conference in London say a new type of antibiotic resistance in E.coli has spread to more than one in three dairy farms in England and Wales. In addition the Health Protection Agency (HPA) is due to present evidence on a highly drug-resistant strain of salmonella associated with pigs and pigmeat and which is linked to human outbreaks in 10 European countries.
An alliance of food and farming groups, including Soil Association, Food Ethics Council and Compassion in World Farming say there needs to be a reduction in the farm use of antibiotics.
'There has been little public scrutiny of farm antibiotic use for over a decade, yet during that time we have seen farmers dramatically increase their use of antibiotics classified by the WHO as "critically important in human medicine" and we have also seen the development of several serious antibiotic-resistant bugs in farm animals which are passing to humans on food and in other ways. It is high time that the government took this problem seriously,' said Soil Association policy advisor Richard Young.
The alliance has called for a ban on rules that allow companies to advertise antibiotics directly to farmers, who can then request specific products from their vets. It said advertisements through trade publications 'undermined the the whole basis of prescription-only medicine and added to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.'
Compassion in World Farming chief executive Philip Lymbery said the intensification of agriculture, with pigs and poultry kept in cramped, unhygienic conditions, and dairy cattle pushed harder and harder to produce more milk, was causing more diseases and forcing farmers to increasingly rely on using of antibiotics.
The Veterinary Medicine's Directorate (VMD) is currently considering whether to follow the rest of Europe in introducing a ban - however a spokesperson said they did not have a date for when they would make a final decision.
Responsible use of medicines in agriculture (RUMA)
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