Antibiotics have revolutionised modern medicine and saved millions of lives. But most antibiotics are not used to save life – nearly 50% of all antibiotics are used in farming, primarily in intensive livestock production to compensate for crowded and unnatural conditions on factory farms. Most pigs, poultry and dairy cows receive antibiotics routinely, whether or not they are unwell, and in recent years entirely new E.coli and MRSA superbugs have become major problems on European farms.
Although resistance in human infections is mainly caused by human antibiotic use, for a range of bacteria, farm animal use contributes significantly, and for some infections it is the main source of resistance. This fact has been established by decades of research and is acknowledged by organisations like the WHO and the European Food Safety Authority. Public health experts are agreed that growing antibiotic resistance in humans poses a real threat to human health, with the terrifying prospect that eventually antibiotics will become useless – the Director-General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Margaret Chan, warned in 2011 of a "post-antibiotic era, in which many common infections will no longer have a cure and, once again, kill unabated."
The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics is an alliance of health, medical, environmental and animal welfare groups working to stop the over-use of antibiotics in animal farming. It was founded by the Soil Association, Compassion in World Farming, and Sustain in 2009, and is supported by the Jeremy Coller Foundation. Its vision is a world in which human and animal health and well-being are protected by food and farming systems that do not rely routinely on antibiotics and related drugs.
We want to see the following urgent action on antibiotic use:
- A legally binding timetable to phase out routine prophylactic use of antibiotics.
- All veterinary antibiotics should be classified as first, second and third choice, according to their importance for treating antibiotic-resistant infections in humans and animals.
- A ban on the use of modern cephalosporins in pigs and for dry-cow therapy should be introduced.
- A ban on all off-label farm use of modern cephalosporins should be introduced.
- A ban on the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry should be introduced.
- New legislation should be introduced as part of an EU-wide antimicrobials strategy aimed at improving animal health and welfare and ensuring that farm animals are kept in less-intensive conditions with, wherever possible, access to the outdoors.
- Improved surveillance of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance is needed.
- Support and resources for organic farming methods, and recognition that higher welfare, less intensive farming systems can reduce the need for antibiotics in agriculture significantly
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