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Rise in superbugs blamed on farmyard antibiotics

Antibiotic use on farms is “almost certainly” behind the rise in numbers of antibiotic-resistant E.coli, according to a new Soil Association report.

Posted : 2 April 2012

E.coli superbugs on farms and food reveals “overwhelming evidence that the excessive use of antibiotics on UK livestock farms is contributing to the rise of drug resistance in human E.coli infections”. Between 750,000 and 1.5 million people contracted and E.coli infection last year and almost 8,000 people died as a result.

The report comes a fortnight after the head of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, warned a meeting of infectious disease experts in Copenhagen that overuse of antibiotics could mean “an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child’s scratched kneee could once again kill.”

The Soil Association report says “extremely resistant” and “more virulent” strains are three times more likely to kill and are a direct consequence of increased use of drugs in animals destined for the food chain – up 18 per cent in the decade since 2000. Over the past 20 years cases of blood-poisoning from E.coli have increased fourfold.

“Just about every  non-organic chicken is still routinely put on antibiotics from the day it is hatched,” said Soil Association policy advisor and report co-author Richard Young. “The UK does not have an effective strategy for addressing the rising levels of antibiotic resistance on farms and food, and is the only EU country still allowing antibiotics to be advertised to farmers.”

More than half of all antibiotics used in the UK are administered to animals, with resistant strains of bacteria appearing faster than new drugs can be developed.

The report recommends that drugs are not administered to healthy animals and wants farmers to cut the amount of antibiotics they use by 50 per cent within the next five years. Organic farming and less intensive production techniques, it adds, “have the potential to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming significantly”.

Read the report

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