Three key steps to reduce the “unnecessary use” of antimicrobials in agriculture are outlined in the final report of the Review on Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR), which was commissioned by the UK government, chaired by Lord O’Neill and is published today.
While addressing all areas of AMR concern, the 84-page report includes a section dedicated to the issue as it relates to agriculture, culminating in the implementation of the following three “broad steps”:
- 10-year targets to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use in agriculture, introduced in 2018 with milestones to support progress consistent with countries’ economic development. In order to reduce global use of antibiotics in agriculture there is a strong case for targets on use at the country level, taking into account countries’ production systems.
- Restrictions and/or bans on certain types of highly critical antibiotics. Too many antibiotics that are last-line drugs for humans are being used in agriculture, sometimes without even professional oversight. These need to be the prime focus of efforts to reduce consumption in animals and action should be taken on this now.
- Improve transparency from food producers on the antibiotics used to raise the meat that we eat, to enable consumers to make more informed purchase decisions.
Enlarging on the targets’ plan, the report states that this area will need careful consideration, such as whether antibiotic classes should be treated differently, and whether targets should be broken down by animal type – e.g. poultry, cattle, etc. – or broken down even further to give more specificity by species.
The setting of different target levels for different countries is also discussed.
“We’ve highlighted the success of Denmark as one of the largest pork exporters in the world,” it is stated. “They have a highly productive farming system with levels of antibiotic use of less than 50 mg / kg. We therefore see this as a broadly reasonable target for high-income countries to aim for in the short-term. However, further consideration needs to be given to such targets and how they vary globally, not least since some countries are already below this level, whilst for others it would require substantial change and investment. There will not be a one-size-fits-all target, but all countries need to play their part in reducing use.”
How long countries should be given to reach their targets is also explored.
“We have proposed that targets could be set with a 10-year horizon, with benchmarks to encourage regular progress,” it is stated. “Since there is a need for continuing, even indefinitely, efforts to optimise antibiotic use in animals, we envisage that new targets should be set, after these initial ones, to continue progress.
“We recognise that low and middle-income countries are likely to need more time to reach the same levels of use as high-income countries, and that developing further economic analysis on the switching costs in these countries in particular might assist with design and implementation.
“We believe that targets should be set globally within two years, beginning by 2018, but encourage countries that have good data on antibiotic use to already begin work on what appropriate targets would look like now.”