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"The overuse of antibiotics in farming has been highlighted as one of the biggest emerging threats to human health, spreading resistance to vital drugs and endangering millions of lives. Antibiotics used on farms can spill over into the surrounding environment, for instance through water run-off and slurry, according to a report from the UN’s environment body, with the potential to create resistance to the drugs across a wide area. This environmental diffusion of powerful medicines, to which bacteria are increasingly gaining resistance, is rendering even the drugs of last resort ineffective in human treatment, and may be a bigger factor in spreading resistance than had been thought. Previous concerns focused on resistance to the drugs among livestock and farm workers, but the UN report says the problem goes much further and is much more dangerous. When antibiotics are used on farm animals, the preferred delivery method is often via the livestock’s food and water supplies. However, this can mean too much is used, and the excess is sluiced away into fields or waterways or found in slurry. This allows the antibiotic agents to escape into the natural environment, with unpredictable effects. Through these practices, according to the UN report Frontiers 2017, “the natural environment becomes a reservoir of antibiotic residues, resistant pathogens and other molecules with antimicrobial properties that enhance the spread of resistance genes in microbial communities”...William Gaze, associate professor at the University of Exeter, who contributed to the report, said the environmental diffusion of antibiotics had received little attention, despite being key to slowing the spread of resistance. “So far, a lot of attention has focused on reducing antibiotic use, and that is a key factor, but it’s equally important to understand more about how resistance is spread through our natural environments, so that we can find ways to prevent that happening.” Such measures could include stronger regulations on how the drugs are manufactured, to prevent the antimicrobials being washed away in waste water, and regulations to stop the routine use of antibiotics in farming – in many parts of the world they are used as a growth promoter to make animals put on weight faster, rather than to treat specific illnesses – and the over-prescription of medicines in farming."

Posted December 6th, 2017
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