After the U.K. Prime Minister’s announcement of a review into why so few antimicrobials have been introduced in recent years, the U.K. Science and Parliamentary Committee has published a report titled Ensuring Access to Working Antimicrobials.

The Committee has welcomed the government’s announcement of a review of the economics of antimicrobial research in addressing one aspect of antimicrobial resistance; however, current practice across health and veterinary services is failing to prevent the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics.

Concerning the use of antimicrobials on farm, the report says that there is circumstantial evidence that antimicrobial resistance can be transmitted from animal pathogens to human pathogens.

It continues that the use of tetracycline antibiotics and penicillin in farming as growth promoters has already been banned, but the Committee is worried that the total veterinary use of tetracyclines has increased nearly tenfold and that of penicillin-type antibiotics has increased nearly fivefold since the Swann Report in 1969.

Members of Parliament are calling on the government to take action to ensure the use of antibiotics in farm animals is strictly required for therapeutic use and that more research is carried out on the link between animal and human pathogens resistant to antibiotics.

Need to do more

Andrew Miller, chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said: “We’re pleased that the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity just ahead of the publication of our report launch to reaffirm his commitment to action on antibiotic resistance, but publishing strategies and announcing reviews is not the same as dealing with the problem.

“A two-year review of the incentives needed to develop new antibiotics may lead to necessary action, but what we really need from government right now is decisive and urgent action to prevent antibiotics from being given to people and animals that do not need them.”

Qualified support from industry

Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), a group of 23 organizations aiming to promote a coordinated and integrated approach to best practice in the use of medicines on farm and which contributed to the report has welcomed its publication - but with one caveat.

RUMA supports the Committee’s call for more research into veterinary use but is disappointed with the recommendation that the government takes action to ensure that the use of antibiotics in farm animals is strictly required for therapeutic use.

John FitzGerald, RUMA’s secretary general, said there was no discussion of how antibiotics are, or should be, used in animals in the report, so it is strange that the Committee should make such a recommendation.

He added that RUMA’s Preventive Use Statement says that RUMA does not support the routine preventive use of antibiotics, but it supports the view that controlled intervention, in human and veterinary medicine, to prevent the outbreak and spread of disease, based on sound professional examination and advice, is better than cure. 

The Committee does not comment on preventive use of antibiotics in human medicine and seems to be proposing a “do as I say, not as I do” approach, RUMA says.