Fears more people will die from antibiotic resistance than cancer by 2050

  • Our reporter Hannah Thomas speaks to farmers about the push to cut down antibiotic use in livestock.

Farmers in Wales are backing the drive to cut down antibiotics use in livestock and monitor infection. 

This comes as a response to an increase in antimicrobial resistance, when bacteria no longer responds to medication such as antibiotics making infections harder to treat and increasing the risk of disease spread, severe illness and death

"Anti-microbial resistance is a really serious issue for humans and animals. Globally, about 700,000 people die of antimicrobial related issues at the moment.” said Dr Robert Smith, who leads the DCG program, a programme aiming to reduce the use of antimicrobials in sheep, cattle and horses.

He continued: “If we don't tackle this, by 2050 we'll have 10 million (deaths). More people will die of antimicrobial resistance problems by 2050 than die of cancer at the moment."

The European Medicines Agency and the WHO (World Health Organisation) say that overuse of antibiotics in farming contributes to higher levels of antibiotic resistance in some human infections. 

Jane Smith, of NSA Wales & Border Ram Sales, told ITV Wales: “If you're really concentrating on your flock, and making sure you're taking every precaution, the use of antibiotics can surely be minimised. 

Jane Smith supports the drive to decrease antibiotic use in livestock

She added: “Good farmers, good husbandry, and so people can buy with confidence. Then when the lambs go through the supermarkets and the butchers, they can be confident that they've come from good farms."

Although banned in the UK and the EU from 2006, animals were historically given antibiotics in their feed as a broad preventative measure to promote healthy livestock.

Use of antibiotics in farmed animals in the UK decreased in 2021 to the lowest recorded, with a 55% reduction since 2014. 

Antibiotics were previously used as a broad preventative measure which is thought to have increased resistance amongst humans and animals.

More and more farmers are welcoming the decrease. 

One told ITV Wales: "It gives a more natural look to the produce that we're making."

Another said: "The less antibiotics we can use, the better it is for the sheep and for my pocket as well (...) It costs a lot of money"

Another added: "It's all down to profitability. We're all out to try and make money out of farming. So any way you can by keeping infection down and looking after the stock better - probably by better management and not relying on antibiotics - has got to be a good thing."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said: “Work taking place in Wales has put us at the forefront of efforts to control antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

 “Our five year antimicrobial resistance implementation plan supports this and has a strong focus on applying the principle of ‘prevention is better than cure’.

 “To support our aims, additional funding has also been made available to Arwain DGC for the continuation of efforts, ensuring Wales leads the way in addressing this issue.

 “Vets, animal keepers, health professionals and academics in Wales have already made great contributions and it is important we continue to work together towards the same goals.

 “We continue to contribute to the delivery of the UK five-year National Action Plan and are engaged in developing the next Plan as part of our one-health approach to tackling AMR in human, animal and environmental health.”

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