Fears agriculture antibiotics causing superbugs

Fears agriculture antibiotics causing superbugs

A new report is calling for a global revolution in the use of antibiotics to stop the rise of superbugs.

One major concern is the use of antibiotics in agriculture, contributing to drug-resistant bacteria and their spread to humans. Sixty percent of New Zealand's antibiotics are used on animals and much of this is for our food.

"We only use antibiotics in New Zealand farming when we really need to, for treating diseases," says Andrew Hoggard, Federated Farmers' dairy chairman.

"We don't at all add antibiotics to the animals' feed, which does happen in some overseas production systems."

The Review on Antimicrobial Resistance estimates that if we don't address the superbug problem, drug resistant bacteria could cause 22,000 deaths every year in Oceania by 2050.

Globally, there could be 10 million deaths a year, at a cost of US$100 trillion.

One of the recommendations is an agricultural ban on using antibiotics that are vital for human health.

Veterinary Association spokesperson Eric Hillerton says New Zealand is already among the lowest users of veterinary antibiotics in the world, "The class that is concerning human health most of all, what the World Health Organisation calls the critically important antibiotics, these are not hugely used in animals, only when absolutely necessary."

The sale and use of antibiotics is strictly controlled and monitored by the Ministry for Primary Industries to manage the potential for resistance.

The Poultry Industry Association of New Zealand says "there are no antibiotics of human significance used in the NZ poultry industry", while NZPork says it "promotes the responsible use of antibiotics including minimising their use to the extent possible".

But Mr Hillerton believes we can still do better.  The Veterinary Association aims to get rid of non-medicinal use of antibiotics in livestock by 2030.

"A lot of effort going into judicious use, making sure we're smarter about what we actually do," Mr Hillerton says. "That hopefully will lead to some reduction."

But while animals use the majority of our antibiotics, pound for pound, humans use 12 times more.

MPI says veterinary antibiotics are used to treat a large number of animals, including more than 30 million sheep, 8.5 million cattle, 90 million chickens, 730,000 pigs, and 2 million household pets.  Compared to 4.5 million people.

"It's about making sure antibiotics are available, for humans as well as animals, for as long as possible," says Mr Hillerton.

MPI is due to release a report on the latest information on antibiotics used in animals is drafting a Direction Statement.