G8 Meeting Begins: Ag Antibiotics on Agenda?

Photo: Caro’s Lines (CC), Flickr

Quick post today as I’m getting ready for some travel. Just to note: The G8 summit is beginning in Ireland, and there is a push on to put intensive agriculture and its antibiotic use on the agenda for discussion by the major Western economies.

From last week’s The Guardian:

Britain is to urge the G8 to take action against the spread of drug-resistant microbes as medical and veterinary experts warn that co-ordinated international action is needed to prevent soaring rates of potentially lethal infections turning into a public health catastrophe.

David Willetts, the science minister, will propose far-reaching measures that would clamp down on the overuse of antibiotics by GPs and hospital doctors. He will also try to restrict usage on farms and fisheries, where the drugs are blended with feed to boost yields.

Willetts will push for a consensus on ways to ramp up the discovery of new drugs to fight bacteria, speed their approval and delivery to patients, and strengthen cross-border surveillance for emerging resistant strains.

“Across the G8, we should regard the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge that is up there with climate change, water stress and environmental damage, and there are genuine policy consequences that follow from that,” Willetts told the Guardian.

The call by the UK government is considered serious enough that it has been noted by agricultural media; there are stories in World Poultry and the Farmer’s Guardian, which quotes the president of the British Veterinary Association:

Peter Jones, president of the British Veterinary Association (BVA), said: “We know that veterinary use of antimicrobials is well regulated in the UK and Europe but this is not necessarily the case across the globe. Action being taken in Europe is important but it is just a drop in the ocean and so we must promote the responsible use of antimicrobials internationally.

“Irresponsible use of antimicrobials in both humans and animals can lead to resistance and ultimately to these vital medicines becoming ineffective. We hope David Willetts will be able to draw on the positive measures taken in the UK and Europe to encourage other nations to take appropriate action.”

The BVA is a member of the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA). RUMA Secretary general John FitzGerald said they did not support a ban of all antibiotics in agriculture.

Today, US Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, sponsor of a bill to reduce the use in US agriculture of antibiotics that are important for human medicine, urged President Barack Obama to take up the cause at the meeting. From her letter:

I have been fighting this battle in Congress since 1999, and carrying legislation since 2007 — the Preservation of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act — that would protect eight classes of antibiotics for human health while allowing the treatment of sick animals. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has taken steps to address the issue, since its 1977 recognition that the agricultural overuse of penicillin and tetracycline was contributing to the increase in resistance, but their current voluntary guidance advising “judicious use” of antibiotics is not enough to protect our citizens.

As our friends and trading partners move forward with more aggressive countermeasures to this growing public health crisis, I fear that America will find itself at a disadvantage that will impact not only our public health and the lives of our people, but also our ability to trade our products. I urge you to listen to your colleagues this week as this matter is discussed. I look forward to an open dialogue with you about the conversations and the next steps.

The issue of international competitiveness is an interesting angle. I suspect antibiotics are viewed as something that improves our competitiveness because it makes meat cheaper. What if that use closed markets, instead of opening them?



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