Animal Aid

Farmers over use of antibiotics is major threat to human health

Posted 11 March 2013

The Government’s Chief Medical Officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, has warned that serious action must be taken to prevent antibiotic resistance in bacteria becoming a ‘catastrophic’ threat to public health. Professor Davies specifically identified the need for greater development of new antibiotic drugs and the need to reduce the overuse of existing ones, but only passing reference was made to the vast use of antibiotics in farmed animals.

Incredibly, more antibiotics worldwide are fed to animals than to people, according to Dr Margaret Chan, Director General of the WHO (March 14th 2012). This provides huge potential for drug resistant strains of infectious organisms to develop in farmed animals and for them to jump species to humans.

Throughout much of the world, it is common practice to give farmed animals sub-therapeutic doses of antibiotics because this has a growth-promoting effect. The practice was banned in the European Union in 1999, as it was feared it would lead to greater antibiotic resistance. However, many EU farmers still use huge quantities of antibiotics via a legal loophole that permits the use of drugs prescribed by vets. Between 2004 and 2009 antibiotic use in farm animals fell by only 11 percent in the UK – from 393 tonnes to 349 tonnes. But, even this reduction in tonnage can largely be attributed to the increased use of stronger antibiotics requiring lower doses. In October 2011, the Environment Committee of the European Parliament said that ‘despite the ban of the use of antibiotics as growth promoters, there seems to be no significant decrease in the consumption of antibiotics in the veterinary sector, which continue to be used systematically for “prophylactic” purposes due to unsustainable agricultural practices.’

The unsustainable agricultural practices referred to are the crowded and squalid conditions in which so many pigs, chickens, cows and other animals are kept. These intensive regimes provide the perfect breeding grounds for numerous diseases and infections that affect animals’ intestines, respiratory system, reproductive tract, blood, skin, feet, brain and joints. This necessitates the administration of huge quantities of antibiotics to ensure animals survive long enough to make it to slaughter.

The fact that factory farming practices have virtually negated the effect of the ban on the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the EU clearly demonstrates that factory farming is not only bad for animal welfare but represents a serious threat to human health as well.

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