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Antibiotic use on farms threatens pandemic ‘much bigger than Covid’, campaigners warn

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Research carried out by World Animal Protection (WAP) last year found dangerous antibiotic resistant superbugs in rivers and lakes near factory farms in Spain, the USA, Canada and Thailand.

HOLLY BANCROFT: Overuse of antibiotics on farm animals could lead to a pandemic “much bigger than Covid,” campaigners have warned. Health experts are calling for a ban on the use of low doses of antibiotics on healthy farm animals, saying the practice was breeding untreatable “superbugs” which could spread to humans.

Farmers often give animals a preventative low dose of antibiotics as an insurance policy against disease. But from 28 January, new EU legislation will prohibit all forms of routine antibiotic use in farming, including preventative treatments.

The government’s veterinary medicines directorate has begun a consultation about whether the UK should follow suit. Use of antibiotics on farmed animals has decreased significantly over the past few years – a 52 per cent reduction since 2014 – but campaigners say this does not go far enough. They are calling on the government to follow the EU and ban the practice of giving the drugs to healthy farm animals.

The UK’s Health Security Agency warned last month that antimicrobial resistance was a “hidden pandemic”, while the World Health Organisation has estimated drug-resistant diseases could killed 10 million people globally each year by 2050 if no action is taken. Doctors are now trying to tackle patients’ overdependence on antibiotics by decreasing their prescription. Although 66 per cent of antibiotics are used by humans, a sizeable percentage – 26 per cent – are used on farm animals…

Research carried out by World Animal Protection (WAP) last year found dangerous antibiotic resistant superbugs in rivers and lakes near factory farms in Spain, the USA, Canada and Thailand. The group collected surface soil and dust particles from waterways upstream and downstream from pig farms in North Carolina, US. Eighty-three out of 90 samples came back positive for antimicrobial resistant genes, a “widespread contamination” that researchers concluded “strongly suggests factory farms are discharging resistance genes into public waterways”.

The group will be carrying out similar research in the UK next year. Lindsay Duncan, UK campaign manager at WAP, said the coronavirus pandemic had shown how the issues emerging in one country were not confined there. She said: “If there are one or two bad players that’s still going to cause a problem for the rest of the world. “It’s not just the case of the EU doing the right thing. We all need to be doing this and putting in this legislation. This is going to be the next major pandemic and it’s going to have a really big effect on people”…

Suzi Shingler, campaign manager for the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, said: “If you imagine a big herd of pigs or chickens that are stressed and overcrowded, the immune suppression they get from this environment is really asking for disease and illness to spread. Instead of making changes to these conditions, it has been for decades cheaper and easier to give them all low levels of antibiotics in their feed and water.”

Ms Shingler warned low doses could significantly increase the risk of breeding untreatable bacteria. “Mass dosing creates the perfect breeding ground for the strongest type of bacteria to survive,” she said. “The worst elements will survive the long-term low dosing of antibiotics and it’s like supercharging the normal natural selection process of superbugs”. SOURCE…

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