Human health threatened as farm use of antibiotics increases again
Soil Association Press Release - http://www.soilassociation.org/
Government figures just published show another big jump in the veterinary use of two of the most important classes of antibiotics in human medicine. 
The latest data shows that, in 2007, the veterinary use of fluoroquinolone antibiotics increased by 20% compared with 2006, and the use of cephalosporin antibiotics increased by 10%.  
This is the sixth time in the last seven years that both fluoroquinolone and cephalosporin use has increased. In comparison with 2001, fluoroquinolone use in 2007 is up by 48% and cephalosporin use up by 138%. This has occurred despite large falls in livestock numbers over the same period. Since 2001  pig numbers have fallen by 17%, poultry by 7%, cattle by 3% and sheep by 8%. 
With rising antibiotic resistance in human and veterinary medicine, and very few new antibiotics coming on to the market, fluoroquinolones and modern cephalosporins are two of the most effective classes of antibiotics remaining for treating life-threatening infections, such as meningitis in children, or severe campylobacter, shigella or salmonella infections. As a result, these drugs have been classified as ‘critically important antibiotics for human medicine’ by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The WHO have also said that they are two of the three antibiotic classes for which there should be the greatest sense of urgency for developing strategies to preserve their effectiveness in human medicine. 
Mounting evidence that antibiotic-resistant bacteria are spreading from farm animals to humans has recently led the European Medicines Agency (EMEA) to run consultations on the veterinary use of fluoroquinolones and modern cephalosporins. In both cases, the EMEA’s advisory committee expressed concerns about resistant bacteria spreading from animals to humans and called for these antibiotics to be used as prudently as possible in farming.   
In contrast to the situation with fluoroquinolones and cephalosporins, the latest data for overall farm antibiotic use do show a welcome 4% fall since last year, although this can be partly explained by lower livestock numbers.
The Soil Association welcomes the fact that finally the Government’s statistics also include valuable information on the relative amount of antibiotics used in different animal species. From this, it can be estimated that approximately 64% of all farm antibiotic use is in pigs, 32% in poultry, 3% in cattle, 1% in fish and less than 0.5% in sheep. 
These figures show the huge reliance of the intensive pig and poultry industries on antibiotics. On the other hand, grazing animals like cattle and sheep, are generally farmed less intensively, with greater access to the outdoors. As a result, they develop fewer diseases and do not need as many antibiotics.
Richard Young, Soil Association policy adviser, said:
“We estimate that a move to less intensive, more health-oriented livestock farming, could reduce farm antibiotic use by up to 75%. This would help to safeguard the future effectiveness of critically important drugs, and over the coming years, save countless human lives.
“The Government needs to get a grip on the situation quickly. Despite a warning from the House of Lords in 1998 on the veterinary use of fluoroquinolones and the increasing concern of the WHO and European regulators more recently, it has taken no effective action, and the use of these life-saving drugs is now increasing exponentially, year after year.
“We accept there are occasions when these antibiotics should legitimately be used on farms to prevent the death or suffering of large mammals like cattle and pigs. But it is quite clear that through ignorance of the long-term consequences, many vets and farmers are still choosing them just because they are modern medicines, when for most conditions there are equally effective alternatives."
For further information please contact:
Richard Young, Soil Association policy advisor, on 01386 858235, email@example.com
Cóilín Nunan, Soil Association policy researcher, on 01890 870687, firstname.lastname@example.org
Notes for editors:
 Defra press release (20 Aug 2008) 'Sales Of Veterinary Antimicrobials In The UK In 2007'
 Cephalosporins are the most modern penicillin-type antibiotics. They are effective against a large number of infectious bacteria, but because of their importance in human medicine they should be used only in limited circumstances in order to preserve their effectiveness. Although resistance to any cephalosporin is considered a serious problem, the greater concerns relate to the more modern third and fourth generation cephalosporins. The Government’s figures on the veterinary use of antibiotics, however, do not differentiate between the different generations of cephalosporins, so the figures quoted in this press release apply to all cephalosporins. Nevertheless, earlier this year the Government’s Veterinary Medicines Directorate provided us with statistics showing that the veterinary use of third and fourth generation cephalosporins increased by 209% between 1999 and 2006. Fluoroquinolones are the most modern quinolone-type antibiotics. The quinolones are one of the very few new classes of antibiotics to be developed during the last 30 years. The US has banned the use of fluoroquinolones in poultry production, Finland severely restricts them and regulators in Australia have refused to allow their use in food animals entirely.
 Figures in Veterinary Medicines Directorate, 2008. ‘Sales of antimicrobial products authorised for use as veterinary medicines, antiprotozoals, antifungals, growth promoters and coccidiostats, in the UK in 2007.’
 A comparison is being made with 2001 for livestock numbers and antibiotic consumption because this is the first year for which there are comparable, fully revised, livestock numbers.
 Figures for 2001 in Veterinary Medicines Directorate, 2007. ‘Sales of antimicrobial products authorised for use as veterinary medicines, antiprotozoals, antifungals, growth promoters and coccidiostats, in the UK in 2006.’
 World Health Organisation, 2007. ‘Critically important antimicrobials for human medicine – categorization for the development of risk management strategies to contain antimicrobial resistance due to non-human antimicrobial use’, Report of the second WHO Expert meeting, Copenhagen, 29-31 May 2007, http://www.who.int/foodborne_disease/resistance/antimicrobials_human.pdf
 Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use, 2006. ‘Reflection paper on the use of fluoroquinolones in food-producing animals in the European Union: development of resistance and impact on human and animal health’, European Medicines Agency, http://www.emea.europa.eu/pdfs/vet/srwp/18465105en.pdf
 Committee for Medicinal Products for Veterinary Use, 2008. ‘Reflection paper on the use of third and fourth generation cephalosporins in food-producing animals in the European Union: development of resistance and impact on human and animal health’, European Medicines Agency.
 While all European organic standards already restrict the use of antibiotics on farms (routine prophylactic use is not permitted, the frequency of therapeutic use is restricted and extended withdrawal periods are required after their use before animals can be slaughtered), the Soil Association has further limited the use of fluoroquinolones on farms it certifies. These antibiotics can only be used with the organisation’s permission, and only on individual animals. Permission to use them should be discussed in the annual health plan, but in cases where they are needed to save lives or prevent suffering, this permission can be sought retrospectively. From January 2009, similar restrictions will be introduced by the Soil Association for the use of third and fourth generation cephalosporins.
 The species breakdown provided in the Veterinary Medicines Directorate report is not entirely complete – 7% of the antibiotic products sold for use in food animals only are not broken down by species (there is additionally a similar amount of antibiotics sold for use in food animals and pets which is not broken down by species). Our estimate of the percentages used in each food-animal species may not therefore be entirely accurate, but it gives a reasonably good reflection of the true situation.
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