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Facing the Future of Antibiotic Resistance - The Change Starts Here

18/07/2016 13:48 | Updated 18 July 2016

Resistance is coming and we are running out of time. We've seen the future and this is it: Swine, our latest film, takes you to a terrifying future in which there is a global health crisis posed by an unregulated factory farming industry's misuse and abuse of antibiotics.

We've already attracted some support from high profile friends: @RealMattLucas and @NicholasHoult are excited about the film - and who can blame them, it's the latest in apocalyptic horrors.

But it's not fantasy. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned for some time about rising antibiotic resistance around the globe, in which it said that a post-antibiotic era is, in fact, a very real - and "devastating" - possibility for the 21st century.

We know now that antimicrobial resistance poses a potentially catastrophic threat for humankind. Antibiotics underpin modern medicine as we know it; if they lose their effectiveness key medical procedures (hip replacements, caesarean sections, minor surgery and treatments that depress the immune system such as chemotherapy for cancer) could become too dangerous to perform.

Already 700,000 people die of resistant infections every year and this looks set to only get worse. The recent O'Neill Report suggests that if it continues unchecked, by 2050 we could be looking at 10 million deaths worldwide.

If we don't act now, we could render medications that are effective on septicaemia, tuberculosis, pneumonia, syphilis, gonorrhoea and meningitis useless - as well as live in that time in the not-too-distant future when having a routine operation means putting your life on the line.

But how does this relate to farming? Disease is rife in factory farming due of overcrowding, stress, compromised immune systems, poor ventilation, gasses from slurry pits damaging the animals' respiratory system or just plain poor hygiene. Animals are treated with antibiotics routinely or even prophylactically. There is a large consensus of us who believe that the use of antibiotics on animals continues unregulated and unchecked - exemplified by the fact that it's estimated 45% of antibiotic use now in the UK is on animals.

With such levels of antibiotic use, the development of resistant strains of bacteria becomes an inevitable consequence of natural selection. It happens when the DNA of micro-organisms mutate and when resistant traits are exchanged between them.

And the development of new antibiotics is simply failing to keep pace with the speed at which bacteria are adapting.

In addition, antibiotic-resistant bacteria pass between humans, between animals and between humans and animals in both directions much more frequently than once thought.

Less than two months ago, David Cameron announced targets to reduce farm antibiotic use in the UK to the level recommended by the O'Neill Review. But David Cameron is as good as gone and, in a post-referendum landscape, the UK's place in the EU (which voted to ban prophylactic use of antibiotics in farm animals in 2011) is facing an uncertain future. We've lobbied the government for years but now we don't even know who our government is. The only answer is to take matters into our own hands.

I have talked before about how people struggle to understand what difference they alone can make and also how, together, we can join up the dots and create a meaningful force for change.

Referendum issues aside, one of the few real powers we have in a capitalist society is consumer power. With 30% of us concerned about the use of antibiotics in the meat that we eat isn't it time we started flexing our muscles? If we don't buy meat, those farms could go out of business and the unregulated use of antibiotics go with them.

It's not just about animal welfare this time - it's about all of us. It's about you, your children and your children's children. Because you never know when you or someone your love might need those life-saving antibiotics to work.

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