"Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat," said professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer. "If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics. Routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection. That’s why governments and organizations across the world, including the World Health Organization and G8, need to take this seriously."

Davies made these comments as the second volume of the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report was published, which highlights the slowdown in the discovery of new antibiotics developed in the past two decades. New infectious diseases for humans continue to be discovered nearly every year over the past 30 years, but there have been very few new antibiotics developed, according to the report.

“This is not just about government action,” Davies said. “We need to encourage more innovation in the development of antibiotics—over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them.”

The report calls for the healthcare industry to help preserve the effectiveness of the current arsenal of antibiotics and for the use of better hygiene measures to prevent infections, prescribing fewer antibiotics and making sure they are only prescribed when needed. “In some areas, like cutting rates of drug resistant MRSA, the NHS [National Health Service] is already making good progress so it’s important that we use that knowledge across the system and I hope my recommendations will prompt people to do that."

The report calls for a national approach to tackling antimicrobial resistance, which should not just focus on humans, and that the risk of antimicrobial resistance in animals should be managed closely by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs. It is important to recognize that this report doesn’t ignore the potential role antibiotic usage in animals might play in antimicrobial resistance problems in human health, but it recognizes that usage of antibiotics in human medicine likely plays a larger role than does antibiotic usage in animals.

My fear has always been that the usage of antibiotics in food-producing animals has been a straw man setup by those aligned against animal agriculture. If use of antibiotics in animals isn’t the cause of antibiotic resistance issues in human medicine, then restricting use of antibiotics in animal agriculture doesn’t “solve” the problem. This, of course, means that we need to restrict antibiotic use in animal agriculture even more because we haven’t fixed the problem yet. The attitude towards the antimicrobial resistance problem expressed in this report is a step in the right direction.