A new report from the World Organisation for Animal Health says the widespread use of the drugs on farm animals is a key factor in increasing resistance to such drugs in humans. We asked Zac Goldsmith, a Conservative MP and former editor of The Ecologist magazine, how significant the risk to human health could be.
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The World Health Organisation says antibiotics are often given to livestock without medical supervision, in a chaotic and reckless manner.
It has warned the world is rapidly approaching a point where many common antibiotics will no longer work on patients.
Zac Goldsmith told VoR: “In the US it’s estimated that 80 percent of all antibiotics that are purchased are used on farm animals. It’s roughly 50 percent across Europe. Staggeringly high in both areas.
Goldsmith points out that antibiotics were the miracle cure that changed everything for humanity, yet because of their abuse, we are hurtling towards a post-antibiotic age, where simple routine operations will no longer be possible, where people die of infections that were easily curable just a few years ago. “There’s no debate about that. We know that’s the direction in which we’re going, we know we’re abusing antibiotics, and this has to stop – it’s as simple as that.”
He says that it’s not something that resonates greatly yet with the general public, although it’s the No 1 health concern we face -“nothing comes close to it”.
The medical profession acknowledges this reality, he says. “The Chief Medical Officer, Dame Sally Davies, spoke of anapocalyptic scenario . Her predecessor issued very serious warnings; he said that every unnecessary use of antibiotics on animalls or in agriculture was signing a death warrant for future patients.”
US/EU trade deal likely to make things worse
The US and the EU are looking at a major new trade deal which could see a watering-down of restrictions on the trade and use of antibiotics in farming.
Goldsmith says that this could have a huge impact, with the US’s more relaxed attitude being a major source of concern. “The pressure from business will inevitably be downwards not upwards. So the conclusion of the TTIP – this colossal trade agreement – I believe will be that standards will slip, they won’t be improved.
“The problem is when you keep animals in conditions which are not conducive to life – and most factory farms tick that box. The only way to keep animals alive is to give them daily doses of antibiotcis, so they’re not actually being used to treat sick animals, they’re being used to keep animals alive in conditions where they otherwise would not survive. In the States they also use antibiotics to encourage animals to gain weight so they become more valuable.”
We need to remove the crutch of antibiotics, he says. In the UK, farming doesn’t require the crutch of antibiotics, animals are not given daily doses in the same way.
“We should ban the use of antibiotics on farms – those antibiotics which are crucial to human health.”
Some would say that these methods are necessary so as to get enough cheap meat into the supermarkets to feed the world’s growing population, but Goldsmith argues that we shouldn’t be seeing the cost of food in absolute terms, we need to take into account the costs of dealing with infections, the social costs, people dying of infections that should be curable, and so on.
“We need to get away from this idea of cheap food – there’s nothing cheap about it, I would say it’s unaffordable.”
This article first appeared on ‘Voice of Russia’ website.
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