UK report on antibiotic resistance finally released

A study looking at the risks to public health from antibiotic resistance in farm animals has been finally been released. The Soil Association, the UK's organic food certification body, welcomed the study's publication but pointed out that it was completed a year ago and questioned the reasons for the delay in publication.

The Advisory Committee on the Microbiological Safety of Food (ASMSF) recommends a range of changes to and reductions in farm animals’ antibiotic exposure. “Overall, the aim must be to reduce the exposure of farm animal bacterial populations to antibiotics,” states the Report on Microbial Antibiotic Resistance in Relation to Food Safety.

It is uncertain as to when the Government will act on the report’s findings, but the Soil Association’s (SA) antibiotic campaigner, Richard Young, believes there is disagreement as to how seriously the Government should take antibiotic resistance. “We’re pretty sure that ministers at the Department of Health are more concerned about this than ministers at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food,” Young told edie. “There is tension in government.” The two departments share responsibility for antibiotics given to farm animals.

The ASMSF’s broad recommendations include:

  • constraining the use of antibiotic growth promoters
  • paying greater attention to the question of resistance in the approval procedures for veterinary medicines and in post-marketing surveillance
  • stimulation of the farming industry, its suppliers and the veterinary professions to develop strategies for reducing the use of antibiotics for therapy, prophylaxis, etc over time and confronting the difficulties caused by the veterinary use of fluoroquinolones
  • introducing tighter controls on medicated animal feedings stuffs
  • improving our understanding of resistance in bacteria isolated from food animals and foodstuffs, of human infections associated with antibiotic-resistant foodborne pathogens, and of the ways in which the food chain contributes to human infections with antibiotic resistant micro-organisms.

SA has called for an independent body to supervise the UK veterinary profession. “Seventy per cent of the veterinary profession’s income comes from the sale of antibiotics,” points out Young, who would like to see a watchdog body that would pick up on vets who are over prescribing. Young believes that such a body would make it unnecessary to go the route of Denmark, which has taken the right to sell antibiotics away from vets. Danish vets prescribe antibiotics but only chemists can sell them. Such a system removes any commercial incentive for vets to over prescribe antibiotics (see related story).

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