Anna Glayzer, Advocacy Manager at Consumers International, outlines the need for an urgent, global response to the world's escalating antibiotic resistance crisis.
This week is World Antibiotics Awareness Week. Given the seriousness of the public health crisis we are facing, there are few topics more in need of heightened worldwide awareness than antibiotic resistance. Many people do not realise that we are a few decades away from the end of modern medicine as we know it. By 2050 drug resistant infections will cause 10 million deaths- becoming a bigger killer than cancer is today.
Resistance to antibiotics occurs naturally with use, making it essential that we use these drugs sparingly, for the treatment of disease, where prevention and other methods of treatment have failed. Instead, the irresponsible use of antibiotics is a major driver of resistance. Farm animals consume two thirds of the world’s antibiotics. These vital drugs are often routinely added to feed to make animals grow faster or to counter unsanitary conditions in factory farming facilities.
This week is also the one year anniversary of the publication of research showing that the threat from Colistin resistance was far greater than previously realised. Colistin is one of the antibiotics on the World Health Organization’s critically important list. It is used in human medicine as a drug of last resort- something to be prescribed when other antibiotics have failed. Colistin resistant infections in food animals and humans are spreading around the world.This is being driven by agricultural use of Colistin, which continues to rise year on year.
Our campaign #AntibioticsOffTheMenu is about calling on global food businesses to end the routine use of all antibiotics included on the World Health Organization’s list of critically important antibiotics. This week we have published an open letter to the CEOs of KFC, Subway and McDonald’s calling on them to make global commitments to end the routine use of all antibiotics included on the World Health Organization’s list of medically important antimicrobials, in all of their livestock supply chains. This means prohibiting suppliers from using these antibiotics for growth promotion or disease prevention and only using these antibiotics when there has been a diagnosis of illness.
Global food brands like KFC, Subway and McDonald’s are in a position to make an impact on the antibiotic resistance crisis, faster than legislation alone. Subway and McDonald’s have already made commitments in North America. In the USA Subway has committed to only source meat and poultry raised on no antibiotics. McDonald’s USA already serves chicken in the raised without the routine use of any of the antibiotics from the WHO list, with McDonald’s Canada soon to follow.
We welcome the progress by Subway and McDonald’s in North America but action in one country or one region is simply not enough. Antibiotic resistance does not respect national boundaries. Our food and farming systems are more globalised now than ever. Resistant bacteria spread from the guts of farm animals via faeces, air, soil, water, contact with farm workers, contaminated meat.
The response to the antibiotic resistance crisis the world is now facing will need to be multifaceted. Prudent use in human medicine, better hygiene in health care and the development of new drugs will be needed. We cannot escape public health disaster unless we tackle agricultural use of antibiotics.
The World Health Organization, the UN, the G20, governments, scientists, consumer and environmental advocates, academics and medical professionals all over the world are calling for urgent action to stop the threat of antibiotic resistance. Global, consumer facing food brands should act now, and act globally.