This year ReAct is focusing many of our activities during World Antibiotics Awareness Week on use of antibiotics in animal food production. Global antibiotic consumption in livestock was in 2013 estimated to be over 130 thousand tons. These large quantities of antibiotics are used for disease prevention and control and as growth promoters in food animals.
Given that all antibiotic use runs the risk of promoting survival of resistant bacteria this reliance on antibiotic use to sustain intense farming practices and production systems is concerning both from the perspective of resistance development.
Use of critically important antibiotics
Large-scale use of antibiotics that are critically important for humans in animals is particularly worrying. Colistin is considered a last resort antibiotic used for treating very resistant Gram-negative infections in humans. In 2015 the colistin resistant MCR-1 gene was discovered in a pig in China and has since been found in over 30 countries and on five continents.
A recent study also found that the prevalence of MCR-1 in China’s food, water supply, animal and human population has been increasing. This is especially worrying given the hypothesized transmission from livestock to humans through contaminated food products, direct contact, or via water sources that have been contaminated by farm runoff.
Consumer power can change demand
A range of consumer groups that ReAct work with through the Antibiotic Resistance Coalition launched various consumer campaigns in the US calling for ending routine preventive use of antibiotics in food animal production.
These campaigns have shown a lot of promise leading to big fast food chains like KFC the fried chicken giant announcing that by the end of 2018, all chicken purchased by the company in the U.S. will be raised without antibiotics important to human medicine.
McDonalds, the worlds largest food restaurant chain, has also revisited their antibiotic policies and has committed to adopt new rules for production practices to preserve antibiotic effectiveness worldwide – including by committing to eliminating antibiotics defined by the WHO as High Priority Critically Important to human medicine from all chicken products sourced by the chain.
These are excellent examples of how consumers can be a highly impactful driver of change in a sector, which otherwise has been slow in responding to the threat of antibiotic resistance.
We hope to further globalize these efforts to other countries and other food chains to catalyze the change that is urgently needed.