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Antibiotics given to animals 'helping spread superbugs'
08-11-2008, 02:03 AM,
Antibiotics given to animals 'helping spread superbugs'
New strains of MRSA and E.coli have already developed in animals and are starting to transfer to humans, according to Richard Young, policy adviser to the Soil Association.

There are also fears the infections could be spreading via imported meat after three people in the UK with no direct link to farm animals developed the new MRSA strain.

Mr Young, who is also an organic farmer, believes the farming industry should be advised to cut down on its drugs prescriptions in the same way as GPs have been told to reduce how many antibiotics they prescribe.

New guidelines announced for doctors last month said patients with coughs, colds and ear infections should not be given antibiotics to avoid helping the spread of superbugs.

Doctors spend £175million on the drugs each year, doling out 38 million prescriptions, but specialists argue they help infections like MRSA become more resistant.

Mr Young, writing in The Food Magazine, claimed a similar urgent review was needed in how farmers and vets operate in order to avoid an "impending crisis".

He said: "The use of antibiotics is a cornerstone of intensive livestock production and, because this is such an enormous industry, there will inevitably by a reluctance to change. No one wants to stop farmers using antibiotics when they are genuinely needed.

"However, there are a number of very serious problems now developing and the evidence increasingly suggests that food is part of the problem."

A new strain of MRSA is already spreading rapidly across Europe, partly because of the heavy use of antibiotics in pig feed, according to his article.

Around 40 per cent of chickens, calves and dairy cows in the Netherlands already carry the strain and with it an immediate threat to those working with them, it claims.

Half of Dutch pig farmers are already infected and several have needed hospital treatment. It has also been discovered at low levels in pork, poultry and beef.

Mr Young says it is not yet known whether it is spreading to humans from food and only three people in the UK have so far developed the particular strain.

However, he adds: "None of these had any direct contact with farm animals, suggesting that food or some environmental spread could be involved."

A highly-resistant form of E.coli has also already been discovered in Turkey and other countries, raising fears it too could soon come to Britain.

Both imported chicken and cattle have been found to carry the resistant E.coli genes but nothing has been done because the link to human infection is still unproven.

"Regulators appear reluctant to operate the precautionary principle for fear of sparking a new food crisis," says Mr Young.

Around 30,000 people in the UK already contract E.coli infections that are resistant to almost all antibiotics. Of those, some 4,000 do not survive.
“Everything Popular Is Wrong” - Oscar Wilde

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