Yesterdays WHO guidelines on the use and indeed overuse of antibiotics on farms was a defining moment in the story of antibiotics globally.
The antibiotic revolutionized medicine in the 20th century from the early work of Pasteur, Roberts and Alexander Fleming came the wonders of penicillin and the beginnings of the modern treatments we have come to know.
The use of antibiotics in farming quickly followed suit for if we could treat people why not animals? The industrial farming of the US at the turn of the 20th century demanded a steady supply of beef which could be produced cost-efficiently to meet that nations consumer demands. However, with industrial farming methods taking place the treatment of animal diseases posed a new threat for closely packed animals could transmit disease more easily.
Antibiotics changed farming forever. Sick animals could be saved, disease outbreaks could be managed and animals could be promoted to thrive quicker.
It all seemed like a win-win. But then something happened that we didn’t expect nature began to respond. Bacteria began to mutate and evolve in order to combat the administered antibiotics and the evolutionary arms race began again.
Fast forwarding to yesterday’s announcement and the WHO (World Health Organisation) have called for an end to the use of antibiotics for growth promotion. The body also suggested that antibiotics should only be used in healthy animals where the disease has been identified and diagnosed in the same herd i.e. preventive medicine.
Antibiotic resistance and climate change are the issues of our farming generation. Why? If we don’t combat antibiotic resistance, we will create superbugs (many of which already exist) which will, in the long run, kill humans. The real-time toll is already happening. The antimicrobial resistance is making its way through the food chain into humans right now and leads to 23,000 deaths in the US alone every year due to antibiotic-resistant infections.
Imagine a world where a small wound could be fatal, where minor illnesses could become deadly. It’s the world our forebears lived in, infant mortality was high, disease outbreaks such as the Spanish influenza killed millions and if we don’t act now it will make a return.
Farmers and farm groups have been aware of the issue of antimicrobial resistance for some time and efforts have been made to curb the use of said medicines.
However, the IFA’s cautious comments yesterday in response to the WHO statement were not enough. As the main farming body for the country they need to provide clear leadership on this issue. AMR is not a populist conclusion it is a fact and needs to be addressed.
Comments such as IFA animal Health Chairman Bert Stewarts that reducing antibiotic use in animals will make little contribution in reducing antimicrobial resistance are misguided and revisionist.
Now is the time for clear leadership. Every vet in the country, every big pharma company will tell you that this is an issue that needs clear and correct thinking. Irish agriculture has done lots don’t get me wrong but we all need to sing off the same hymn sheet.
We need to reduce antibiotic use, we need preventative medicine, not reactive medicine. The clock is ticking. It’s time to act.
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