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Senior medics call for immediate ban on routine misuse of antibiotics in UK farming

14 November 2016  •  Author(s): The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics

In an unprecedented move, fifteen senior medics have written to the UK government calling for urgent action to tackle the routine misuse of antibiotics in UK farming1.

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Signatories to the letter, which was published today in The Telegraph to coincide with World Antibiotic Awareness Week, include the President of the Royal Society of Medicine – Babulal Sethia, the President of the British Medical Association – Professor Pali Hungin, and the Presidents of ten Royal Colleges and Societies

Coordinated by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics and Medact, the letter states: “We urge the government to…immediately introduce a UK-wide ban on the routine preventative mass medication of animals, and to urgently curb farm use of the ‘critically important’ antibiotics.”

Mass medication of intensively farmed livestock, particularly of pigs and poultry, accounts for nearly 90% of all farm antibiotic use in the UK2. It remains legal in the EU to routinely administer antibiotics to whole groups of livestock before any disease has been diagnosed within the group.

Professor Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, said: “GPs and our teams are doing an excellent job of reducing prescriptions for antibiotics, with the latest NHS figures showing a 2.6m decrease in UK general practice last year.

“But it’s not just the healthcare sector that has responsibility for curbing resistance to antibiotics; the agriculture sector must also play its part. If antibiotics continue to be given to livestock when they are not needed it will put patients at risk all over the world. We support the recommendations outlined in this letter and would urge the Secretaries of State to take them into serious consideration.”

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In March 2016, the European Parliament voted for an EU-wide ban to all routine antibiotic use in farming3. Forthcoming negotiations between the Council of Ministers, the European Parliament and the European Commission will consider this proposal. Letter signatories urge the UK government to take a strong stand in these discussions, and to ensure that, post Brexit, such measures are enshrined in UK law.

Professor Jane Dacre, President of the Royal College of Physicians said: “In the light of the UK’s forthcoming exit from the EU, there is a clear need for unambiguous domestic policies which ensure that antibiotics are used judiciously in human and animal medicine.

“The use of important antibiotics to routinely mass medicate groups of livestock does not constitute judicious use, and should have no place in any antibiotic-reduction strategy for the UK.”

Emma Rose from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics said: “Welcome steps have been taken by some farming sectors to limit veterinary prescribing. But the continued use of antibiotics to routinely mass medicate of livestock risks undermining this progress. The government has repeatedly stated its opposition to such practices. Now, it must act.”

MPs have also recently spoken out on this issue. Following the revelations in September of multi-drug resistant E.coli on supermarket meat, 57 MPs from across the political parties have signed an Early Day Motion calling on supermarkets to ban the routine preventative use of antibiotics in their supply chains4.

However, only Waitrose has so far clarified that it prohibits such practices5.

Professor John Middleton, President of the Faculty of Public Health said: “The evidence linking the overuse of antibiotics in farming and resistance in human bacterial infections is extremely compelling. It is clear that more needs to be done to limit veterinary prescribing.

“The government must now listen to, and act on, the concerns of the medical community – and place public health at the heart of considerations around the future UK farm antibiotic-use policy.”

Dr David McCoy, Director of Medact said: “The overuse of antibiotics in farming is part of a much larger problem with our food system and demand for cheap and abundant meat and animal products. Livestock can be reared without heavy reliance on antibiotics, if we improve animal husbandry and reverse the high consumption of meat in the UK.”

References

1. A shortened version of the letter was published in The Telegraph and was signed by the following individuals, on behalf of their organisations:

Professor Maureen Baker, Chair, Royal College of General Practitioners
Babulal Sethia, President, Royal Society of Medicine
Professor Pali Hungin, President, British Medical Association
Professor Neena Modi, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health
Professor Jane Dacre, President, Royal College of Physicians
Professor Derek Bell, President, Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh
Professor David Galloway, President, Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow
Professor John Middleton, President, Faculty of Public Health
Cecilia Anim, President, Royal College of Nursing
Dr Tajek Hassan, President, Royal College of Emergency Medicine
Mr Michael Lavelle-Jones, President, Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh 
Dr Suzy Lishman, President, Royal College of Pathologists
Martin Astbury, President, Royal Pharmaceutical Society
Dr Richard Horton, Editor, The Lancet
Dr David McCoy, Director, Medact
Emma Rose, Alliance to Save our Antibiotics

2. Mass medication accounts for about 88% of UK farm antibiotic use (premixes, ie. in feed, and water medication together account for about 89%), see p29 of https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/477788/Optimised_version_-_VARSS_Report_2014__Sales___Resistance_.pdf ). The European Medicine Agency’s report on farm antibiotic states that virtually all premixes and oral powders (for medication via water) is for mass medication: see p 26 of http://www.ema.europa.eu/docs/en_GB/document_library/Report/2015/10/WC500195687.pdf

3. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/news-room/20160303IPR16930/superbugs-meps-want-to-curb-use-of-antibiotics-in-farming

4. See Early Day Motion 488: http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2016-17/488

5. http://www.waitrose.com/home/inspiration/about_waitrose/the_waitrose_way/waitrose_animal_welfarecommitments.html

 

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