Chickens

Antibiotic resistance: a looming crisis

“Every inappropriate use of antibiotic in animals is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient”
Sir Liam Donaldson, former Chief Medical Officer

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is a coalition of health, medical, animal welfare and NGO organisations, and is supported by the Jeremy Coller FoundationFind out more about the campaign.

Since the discovery of penicillin in 1928, antibiotics have revolutionised modern medicine and saved millions of lives. But the way we use and abuse antibiotics is undermining their ability to help treat infection and disease.

In both human medicine and farming, antibiotics are bought, sold and used with abandon, resulting in the emergence and spread of bacteria which are resistant to these live-saving drugs.

The growing crisis of antibiotic resistance means that we are in danger of losing these remarkable assets, and with them the ability to protect human health. This is no longer a prediction for the future, but is happening now.

With no new classes of antibiotics developed over the last 30 years, it is becoming ever more important that we safeguard these precious resources.

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics is shining the spotlight on the immense volumes of antibiotics used in intensive livestock farming, and campaigning for urgent action to address these practices.

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Antibiotic use in farming

Antibiotics are not just used in medicine to save human lives. In the UK, nearly 45% of all antibiotics are used in farming, mostly used as a pharmaceutical crutch to compensate for disease-inducing conditions of factory farming, where thousands of animals are typically kept crowded together in confined spaces.

Many pigs, poultry and dairy cows receive antibiotics routinely, whether or not they are unwell. Under EU law, farmers are even allowed to give animals antibiotics which are critically important in human medicine.

Regular, low doses of antibiotics create perfect conditions for the emergence of resistant bacteria: killing off weak, susceptible bacteria whilst allowing stronger, resistant bacteria to survive and grow.

Resistant bugs can readily spread to humans by a number of means - through direct contact with farm animals, consumption of animal products, through air or water.

For a number of infections farm antibiotic use is a significant source of resistance in humans. From the emergence of new E.coli and MRSA superbugs on farms, to the rise of resistant bacterial infections such as Campylobacter and Salmonella, it is clear that this trend is accelerating.

The risk to human health

We are approaching a post-antibiotic era where common infections will once again become killers. In Britain alone an estimated 10,000 people die a year and experts fear this could quadruple within the next 10 years.

Before antibiotics, five women out of every 1,000 died from childbirth, as did three out of ten people who contracted pneumonia. Skin infections proved fatal for one out of nine people.

A recent survey by Avaaz and TNS show that 62% of Brits are alarmed about the risks of antibiotic resistance. Two thirds think farmers should change their practices so that their animals don’t routinely need antibiotics. And 76% of the Brits think ministers should ensure that farmers only use drugs on sick animals, even if that reduces meat production.

The Alliance is calling for immediate action to safeguard our antibiotics for future generations. Find out more, and get involved.