- An increasing number of highly dangerous strains of diseases
such as salmonella and e.coli brings a threat to human health as farms
witness the emergence of "superbugs" which can be transferred
in meat from farm animals to people.
- A report by the Advisory Committee on the Microbial Safety
of Food, an independent group of microbiologists, concluded that urgent
action is needed to curb the overuse of growth-promoting drugs.
- Antibiotics can speed the growth of hens and pigs by
up to 15 per cent, but research suggests that animals are quickly developing
resistant to some of the drugs.
- Chickens are often fed with an antibiotic, avilamycin,
which some experts believe could undermine the effectiveness of a similar
antibiotic in humans which is used to combat meningitis and pneumonia.
There are already several resistant strains of salmonella in the population,
and resistance to the worst hospital bug, MRSA (methycillin-resistant staphylococcus
aureus) has risen to record levels in recent years.
- The committee's 700-page report has taken two years to
research. In a statement, it said today: "The working group (of the
committee) concluded that the evidence it considered shows conclusively
that antibiotics given to animals results in the emergency of some resistant
bacteria which can infect humans.
- "The group concluded that the extent to which antibiotics
given to animals contributes to the overall problem of antibiotic resistant
in humans in uncertain, and it concluded that further research and surveillance
would be needed."
- The report calls for reduced reliance on the use of anti-microbial
agents in food animal production, and better information and surveillance
of resistance to drugs.
- It comes as the Soil Association, the body which oversees
organic produce in the UK, also called for urgent action. According to
the association's policy adviser, Richard Young, the threat to public health
is greater and potentially more costly than the BSE crisis. He said today:
"We are facing a major epidemic of diseases which have developed multiple
drug resistance. At least four of these - salmonella, e.coli, campylobacter
and enterococci - arise directly as a result of the overuse of anti-biotics
in agriculture and there is evidence to suggest that further research would
reveal agricultural links in other cases too.
- "Bacterial resistance has now developed in all classes
of antibiotics and the real problem is that no new class has been developed
in the last 20 years. In the past a continued supply of new antibiotics
hid the gravity of this situation, but now this has slowed to a trickle
whilst resistance is snowballing out of control."
- Mr Young also claimed that European attempts to control
antibiotic use - which resulted in a ban on four growth promoters -
had only worsened the situation. He explained that since the four drugs
were banned others had replaced them, including the previously little-used
antibiotic growth promoter avilamycin which is cross-resistant to a new
"vitally important" medical drug on trial in British hospitals.