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Antimicrobial Resistance

What’s your antibiotic footprint?


Philip Howard

President, British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy (BSAC)

We already know about the carbon footprint and combatting climate change. Now it’s time to look at our ‘antibiotic footprint’.

The ‘One Health’ approach and reducing AMR’s impact

The most recent AMR impact review predicts that anti-microbial resistance could result in over ten million deaths per year by 2050. ‘One Health’ is a global approach to tackling an issue that is “with us now,” says BSAC’s President, Philip Howard.  

The One Health approach covers areas that are pivotal in reducing the impact of drug-resistant infections. These include the use of antibiotics and their development, vaccines, innovative diagnostics, in both human and animal medicine, as well as collaborative data collection that guides research and establishes vital guidelines for drug use.  

Zoonoses – infections transmitted between animals & man

“The link between reducing antibiotic use in animals and decreasing resistance in humans, especially farmers and those working directly with food producing animals is ‘strongest,’ but the benefit for the general population is less clear.” Howard said.

Research suggests that those working with food-producing animals carry the highest risk of being infected with resistant bacteria found in those animals –  infections can cross between species.

As with human medicine, there has been widespread historic misuse of antibiotics in agriculture, with drugs often prescribed to healthy animals to enhance growth or prevent infection, rather than treating infected animals.

This is improving, and the World Health Organization now produces guidelines on the use of ‘medically-important antimicrobials’ in food-producing animals and humans respectively.

How to reduce our ‘antibiotic footprint’

Just as people watch their carbon footprint, Howard, like others, would like to see the public take a similar level of personal ownership over their antibiotic footprint.

Our antibiotic footprint, according to Howard, consists of both antibiotic consumption directly through treatment, but also indirect consumption through eating meat, fish or crops, and the use of household products containing antibacterials, such as washing-up liquids.

Reducing our overall antibiotic consumption, by both direct and indirect means, is something each individual can work toward.

“For example, washing our hands more often and getting recommended vaccinations can reduce our infection risk, and therefore potential antibiotic use. Eating a healthy, balanced diet through informed choices can decrease indirect consumption of antibiotics.”  

Reducing antibiotic use in food production

Animal ingestion of antibiotics accounts for 44 per cent of the UK’s total antibiotic consumption annually, having a direct effect on human antibiotic intake. The farming of fish, meat and crops will always include a level of necessary antibiotic use for good animal welfare or to prevent crop failure.

Some UK supermarkets are leading the charge in terms of publishing both levels of antibiotics used in food production and promoting good animal husbandary standards, something Howard is keen to see spread to other areas of the food industry.

“It’d be great to see the fast food industry follow suit,” he said. “That way, people can make choices in terms of buying food based on those levels, and reducing their antibiotic footprint.”

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