Antimicrobial Resistance is a growing concern around the world, with new legislation having been agreed recently to tackle the resistance. Find out What AMR is and what has changed in a bid to prevent it, by continuing to read below.
What is it -
To put it simply, Antimicrobial resistance (or AMR as it's called) is when a virus, bacteria or parasite gains the ability to stop the work of antimicrobial medicines.
These medicines include antibiotics, antivirals and antimalarial medicines. This all means that some medical treatments, antibiotics in particular, have become ineffective, with infections continuing to flourish and spread to others. This essentially means that humans and animals alike are succumbing to infections and diseases once easily cured with medicines.
A review carried out on AMR in 2014, see here, estimated that the number of worldwide deaths accountable to AMR would increase to 50 million by 2050. They also predict that it will result in a significant loss to the global GDP, in excess of an estimated $100trillion, again by 2050.
They have also listed three bacteria, which have already shown a concerning level of resistance to antimicrobial medicines. These are Klebsiella pneumonia, E.coli, Staphylococcus aureus (Skin infections), as well as broader public health concerns connected to TB, Malaria and HIV.
The agricultural concern is that farmers are using medicines too regularly on farms, which is aiding to the development of AMR in not only livestock but humans also, through consumption of meat and dairy from these animals. It is feared that we are taking in small levels of these medicines previously used on these animals, thus increasing our AMR.
“Human and animal health are intrinsically linked and both depend on our health ecosystem...We’re being warned by scientists that we may be on the cusp of a ‘post-antibiotic era’. The World Health Organisation predicts that AMR will lead to even more deaths than cancer.”, said MEP Mairead McGuinness on AMR.
"Scientists have identified bacteria capable of resisting the drug of last resort - colistin - in patients and livestock in China. It is likely resistance emerged after colistin was overused in farm animals.”, she added.
According to the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI), in 2004 E. coli, levels of resistance to cephalosporins and ciprofloxacin were at 2.6% and 12.6% respectively. By 2014 however, they had risen to 12.9% and 26.2%. Another example is drug-resistant salmonella. In 2013, 30% of human cases were found to be multi-drug resistant, with 15.9% of resistant to ciprofloxacin.
What’s changed -
To help tackle the growing problem, new legislation on animal feed production has been recently agreed.
MEP Mairead McGuinness announced yesterday, that a deal had been reached over new measures in animal feed production. The legislative agreement will see a ban on the preventative use of antibiotics and restrictions when treating a group of animals upon the infection of one herd member. The aim is to ensure that antibiotics are only ever used when necessary and not as a precaution.
Yesterday the Environment, Food Safety and Public Health Committee of the European Parliament voted in favour of a revised Veterinary Medicines legislation also aimed at tackling the growing threat of Anti-Microbial Resistance( AMR).
"Using antibiotics to enhance performance is not permitted under any circumstances,” said Mairead McGuinness MEP upon the announcement.
“And veterinary inspection and prescription of antibiotics will be necessary, allowed only when the risk of infection is high and there is no appropriate alternative...Medicated feed is a useful way to administer antibiotics where necessary compared with other methods, and can be more precise in targeting animal diseases,” she added.
MEP McGuinness said the two pieces of legislation will help ensure the use of these medicines under prescription, while also stopping the use of antibiotics which are used for humans, being used in animal production
“Together with the agreement on Medicated Food, these two pieces of legislation are aimed at ensuring antibiotics are used only under prescription and that antibiotics critical for human medicine use are not used in animal production,”, the MEP said.
“This marks an important development designed to stem what has become a major threat to health, one that if it is not addressed and allowed to get out of hand, could have catastrophic consequences for humans and animals.”, she added.
The VP of the European Parliament warned that if AMR continues at its current rate, common infections would kill again.
“If this were to escalate common infections would kill once again, while surgery and cancer therapies, which are reliant on antibiotics, would also be under threat,” she warned.
In the UK, an Independent non-profit group, Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), have recently published a list of antibiotic use targets for livestock.
The targets are not mandatory, though the group aim to achieve them by 2020. They cover the use of antibiotics on cows (dairy and beef), sheep, beef and poultry, whilst also setting targets for the use of Highest Priority Critically Important Antibiotics (HP-CIA’s). These antibiotics are considered as vital as backup treatments for humans, where older antibiotics are ineffectual.
The main mantra of the group is that although antibiotics are needed, to use as little as possible but as much as necessary. Read their list of ways to reduce the need for antibiotics in livestock below.
- Develop a herd health plan in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner - put it into action and review at least annually.
- Implement a vaccination policy as per herd health plan.
- Focus on disease prevention strategies, including farm biosecurity.
- Develop standard operating procedures for each specific disease and for the medications to be administered, in conjunction with your veterinary practitioner
- Record all medications given (legal requirement) and reasons for administration - analyse this data to see where improvements can be made (consider the possibility of benchmarking antibiotic use).
You can read their (RUMA’s) full list of targets for each animal group here.