New targets must be set and met in both medicine and agriculture, say royal colleges in a letter published in The Times yesterday (November 18) to coincide with European Antibiotics Awareness Day.
Leaders in the medical community have spoken out against the “Government’s failure” to set any targets for reducing farm antibiotic use, even though targets have been set on the medical side.
They say they are concerned any improvement in medical stewardship of antibiotics could be undermined by continuing farm overuse.
They highlight concerns that farm use of key antibiotics could be contributing to the increasing number of antibiotic-resistant Escherichia coli infections in humans.
The co-signatories on the letter included Suzy Lishman, president of the Royal College of Pathologists; Maureen Baker, chair of council, Royal College of General Practitioners; and Babulal Sethia, president of the Royal Society of Medicine, among others.
Meanwhile, research reveals almost half (42%) of antibiotics in the UK are given to intensively produced livestock – mainly pigs and poultry.
New data published by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) indicates that although there is a slight fall in overall farm use, farm use of antibiotics classified as critically important in human medicine has again risen.
In the meantime, a survey commissioned by the Longitude Prize – results of which were published yesterday – has found the public ranks the threat of antimicrobial resistance as second only to a terrorist attack on the UK national risk register.
Welcoming the intervention by the royal colleges, Alison Craig, campaign manager of the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is an urgent problem causing rising public concern.
“The Government must get a grip on overuse. By setting a target for reduction on the medical side, but not on the veterinary side, the Government is neglecting half the problem. If they did this for other health issues, like cancer, there would be an outcry.
“The need for reduction targets on both sides is obvious and we are relieved the medical community thinks so too.”
In a report published on November 17, the European Centre for Disease Control said antibiotic-resistance in E coli to three key antibiotic classes was increasing across Europe, including in the UK.
The VMD report also shows incidence of multi-resistant E coli has increased for all farm animal species tested – cattle, sheep and pigs – except poultry.