US farmers warned of antibiotics use in livestock

Livestock farmers in the United States are coming under increasing pressure to cut down on the non-therapeutic use of antibiotics, after experts revealed that antibiotic resistance could aid the evolution of superbugs such as MRSA in humans.

Speaking at a science conference in London on Monday 26 March, Prof Lance Price, lead author a study into the use of antibiotics in livestock, said genome sequencing had provided “rock solid” evidence that antibiotic resistance had contributed to the emergence of the superbug MRSA.

Public health

Prof Price, who is director of TGen North’s Centre for Microbiomics and Human Health, said the findings supported the idea that antibiotic resistance was one of the “greatest threats to public health.”

He added that the USA’s decision not to cut antibiotic use in animal production could have a “massive global impact”.

EU ban

The EU banned the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in 2006, but US producers still use them widely, for growth promotion and to compensate for over-crowding and unsanitary conditions, said Erik Olson, Director of Food Programs of Pew Health Group. 

In the US it is estimated that livestock producers use 300mg of antibiotics for every kg of meat produced, compared to UK producers, who only use approximately 115mg/kg.
“By aggressively controlling antibiotics in food animal production and human medicine we can ratchet back resistance considerably,” said Prof Price.

US failing

The experts admitted the US was significantly behind Europe and warned that its failure to address the issue immediately could have implications on trade in the future.

A US court recently ordered the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) to address the overuse of penicillin and tetracycline in animal feed as growth promoters.

But Mr Olson said that, while it was a step in the right direction, the FDA needed a broader approach, which encompassed a wider range of antibiotics.

Prof Price said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the ruling. “My main concern is that they [producers] will start using other drugs,” he said.

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