British review calls for urgent cuts to antibiotic use in livestock

LONDON (Reuters) – Massive use of antibiotics in farming poses a critical threat to global public health and should be reduced dramatically to an internationally-agreed target, according to a British government-commissioned review.

Agreeing and implementing a global target for agricultural antibiotic use won’t be easy, the review, led by former Goldman Sachs chief economist Jim O’Neill, said, but is vital if life-saving medicines designed to fight bacterial infections are to be kept effective, both for animals and for people.

The review suggested that following examples of Denmark and the Netherlands could make a swift, significant difference.

Denmark has an average of less than 50mg of antibiotics used a year per kilogramme of livestock, which O’Neill said “may be a good starting point for such a target.”

“Denmark has shown that a very productive farming industry can be sustained alongside relatively low levels of antibiotic use,” the review said.

O’Neill, who presented his review at a briefing in London, said he found it “staggering” that in many countries most of the use of antibiotics is in animals, rather than in humans.

He noted, for example, that in the United States, more than 70 per cent of the use of medically important antibiotics is in animals, with only 30 per cent in humans.

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