There has been a pattern of failing government strategies in the UK to tackle the overuse of antibiotics in farming.
In 1968 the UK Swann Committee was established after serious outbreaks of multi-drug resistant salmonella food poisoning were linked to the use of antibiotics in livestock production.
The committee recommended that all antibiotics which are important in human medicine should be banned as growth promoters in farming. As a result, in the early 1970s the use of penicillin and tetracyclines were banned as growth promoters. An EU ban on all remaining antibiotic growth promoters was implemented in 2006.
The same antibiotics, however, could still be used for routine disease prevention or treatment, often at the same doses previously used for growth promotion.
This meant the use of these antibiotics in animal feed has continued to increase. By 2012, farm use of penicillin-type antibiotics had increased five-fold since the growth promoter ban, and the use of tetracyclines had increased ten-fold.
In 2014, total UK veterinary sales of antibiotics licensed only for food animals also increased by 4%, and total sales in of antibiotics classified as “critically important” in human medicine had increased by 3% to a new record high.
The recently published O’Neill report has recommended measures to tackle antibiotic resistance, including a target for reducing the overall veterinary use of antibiotics and strict oversight on farm use of antibiotics which are critical for human health.
These proposals demonstrate that the international community is waking up to the risks of farm antibiotic use. Read our response to the O’Neill report here.
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