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Monday, December 7, 1998 Published at 07:01 GMT

Action needed to prevent 'superbugs'

If diseases become immune to antibiotics doctors will be powerless to combat them

More measures need to be taken to stop drug-resistant "superbugs" passing from farm animals to people, according to a new report.

Environment correspondent Richard Wilson: "Farmers do not need a prescription for these drugs"
The report, published by the Soil Association, says more and more animals are being given antibiotics similar to those used in human medicines.

It says there is a danger of drug-resistant diseases passing to humans from animals which are being "intensively farmed".

Dire warning

[ image: Many farmers use antibiotics to boost animals' growth]
Many farmers use antibiotics to boost animals' growth
The report comes amid warnings from the animal feed industry that a possible EU ban on some antibiotics in feed would have dire consequences for British agriculture

Antibiotics are used in farm animals for three reasons:

  • To vaccinate against diseases such as foot-and-mouth and swine flu.

  • To treat such diseases.

  • To promote growth in young animals.

    Forum Foods, one of Britain's biggest animal feed firms, says meat prices would rise and thousands of jobs would be lost if the Council of Ministers ban the use of antibiotics at a meeting next week.

    The Soil Association report calls for the government to rein in the "excessive use of antibiotics", especially for growth promotion and disease prevention.

    'Animals given daily doses'

    The association's Campaigns and Policy Co-ordinator, Richard Young, said: "Pigs, poultry and even cattle are getting antibiotics on a daily basis, both to make them grow faster and in an attempt to control the diseases caused by intensive livestock production."

    He said the farming industry had become "addicted" to using antibiotics such as tetracycline.

    The report says the use of antibiotics in intensive livestock farming has increased by up to 1,500% in 30 years and the use of penicillin has increased by 600%.

    It says widespread use of these drugs in farm animals could be to blame for the increase in drug-resistant "superbugs" in humans.

    "It may be no coincidence that the incidence of multi-drug resistant salmonella resistant to tetracycline, has increased from about 15% in the early 1970s to over 80% today," says the report.

    Call for crackdown

    The Soil Association says an estimated 10,000 farmers in the UK are illegally adding antibiotics to livestock feed.

    It recommends a crackdown on the use of the drugs and says the government needs to create a "new climate for the production of inherently healthy animals".

    The report goes on to say animals need to be kept in "more natural and less stressful conditions and routinely treated with respect rather than with antibiotics".

    But it says consumers will have to accept such methods will increase meat prices.

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