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On antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ and livestock production—World Bank expert

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‘For just the fourth time in its 72-year history, the United Nations General Assembly has focused on a health issue: the rise of “superbugs” and antibiotic-resistant infections. These pose a “fundamental threat” to society, said then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, and are inspiring a fresh sense of urgency to find solutions.

‘The livestock sector has played an important role in creating this emerging health threat. It can also help stop it. . . .

‘Unless we take effective action, we could run out of effective ways to treat some of the world’s most serious diseases.

‘We have recently seen worrying evidence in China and in the US of E. coli, a common bacterium, that is resistant to the last line of antibiotic defense, a 1950s drug called colistin. . . .

Two-thirds of human infectious diseases originate in animals. And drug resistance that starts in animals may follow into people.

If we’re going to effectively contain superbugs and antimicrobial resistance, we must fully address the issue in animals.

‘Farmers use antibiotics to help chickens, pigs, cattle, and farmed fish and seafood grow faster and to prevent infection and death. Such mass use of antimicrobials in generally healthy animals can lead to the development of superbugs in livestock. Cutting out the overuse of these medications, and applying them only when necessary, can have a real impact on the growing threat of drug resistance. In the US, for example, 70 percent of antimicrobials go into animal agriculture.

Globally, consumption of antimicrobials by livestock is set to increase by two-thirds between now and 2030.

We must take action immediately to put in place systems to properly control the use of such valuable and increasingly scarce drugs.

‘First we need to know how and where these drugs are being used. As of 2014, only 42 countries had a system to collect data on the use of antimicrobial treatments in animal husbandry. A newly developed global database offers an invaluable tool for mapping antimicrobial use in livestock.

‘We also need to give farmers the support they need to ensure they have the right access to the right drugs when appropriate. . . .

‘It is important to keep in mind that the use of antimicrobials by the livestock industry still has many benefits when the drugs are used properly. For example, the International Livestock Research Institute has worked with farmers in West Africa to increase rational drug use as a means of reducing animal mortality and protecting farmers against losses to their livelihoods. . . .’

With hard work and persistence, growing animals for food can shift from being an important source of antimicrobial resistance to being an important part of the solution.

Read the whole opinion piece by Caroline Plante, a livestock specialist at the World Bank, on STAT News: In the race to fight antibiotic resistance, the livestock industry can be a game changer, 12 Jan 2017.

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