Avoiding Antibiotic Armageddon: Prevent, Preserve, Promote

06/11/2014 10:25 | Updated 05 January 2015

"Prevent people from being infected. Preserve the antibiotics we have; and promote the development of new antibiotics and better diagnostics." This is what Professor John Watson, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer stated that we need to do at a seminar, held last week at the Royal Society of Medicine, (RSM).

'Antimicrobial resistance - the threat to health, and the need for antibiotic stewardship in the farming sector' was organised by Medact, The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, of which my organisation, Compassion in World Farming is a founding member, and the RSM. Never has this subject and indeed what Professor Watson had to say, been more relevant than now.

Worrying new research has shown that the livestock-associated strain of CC398 MRSA is spreading from animals to humans much more frequently than the human-associated strain is spreading in the other direction.

The scientists found that the livestock-associated strain of CC398 is much more antibiotic resistant than the more human-adapted strain, and that the strain's enhanced drug resistance in livestock is likely to be the result of widespread use of antibiotics on farms.

It's clear that our use of antibiotics must be radically altered, or we will soon reach the point where common infections become untreatable. Something previously seen as minor could now become life-threatening.

And one of the causes? Almost half of all antibiotics in the UK are given to farm animals, often on a routine preventative basis, when no disease is diagnosed. The government must set targets for farm antibiotic use reduction in the UK. It is crazy that there is a target for medical antibiotic use reduction but not one for agriculture.

As Professor John Watson said - we need to preserve those antibiotics that we do have and that are currently effective. Because they may not continue to be of use, should we abuse the way we utilise them.

A representative of the Ministry for Rural Affairs, Sweden, stated at the RSM: "Antibiotic bacterial resistance knows no borders. We need to move away from antibiotic use that masks poor animal husbandry.

"Healthy animals do not need antibiotics. We are all responsible: doctors, vets, policy makers, consumers." I couldn't agree more. Let's only treat our farm animals if they are sick. Let's keep them in less intensive environments so that disease doesn't spread so easily. Let's prevent yet more people getting sick and preserve the medicine we have that could save them.

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics was founded by Compassion in World Farming, The Soil Association and Sustain and is supported by the Jeremy Coller Foundation. The Alliance exists to highlight the danger of antibiotic overuse in intensive farming to the health of people and farm animals and to be part of the solution to the problem of growing antimicrobial resistance. 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.