December 7, 2021

International experts warned of serious consequences for animal health due to antibiotic overuse


Overuse of antibiotics and underfunding development of new ones will lead to catastrophic consequences in both human and animal health, an international panel of antimicrobial resistance experts told a group of investors this month.

"Unless we act now, the alarm bells will soon turn into the death knell of modern medicine," Sally Davies, the United Kingdom's special envoy on antimicrobial resistance, said during a recent webinar.

Hosted by a collection of international health organisations, the webinar focused on what are sometimes called superbugs, which have resistance to antibiotics and other microbial treatments used to treat human and animal welfare.

The growing use of antibiotics has led to a corresponding surge in superbugs resistant to them while, at the same time, financing has waned in developing new products as profit margins have shrunk.

"Compared to the $8 billion of profits for cancer drugs, the $100 million loss on antibiotics in 2019 means our medicine cabinets, day by day, become emptier," said Davies.

With more than 70% of antibiotics excreted by livestock — ranging from chickens to cattle — and put into the environment, the ability of microbial strains to develop into superbugs resistant to antibiotics has been strengthened.

Davies suggested lessening human protein-based diets, subscription systems to control use, government supports and increased private investment could solve the problem.

Davies pointed to a bill before US lawmakers called Pioneering Antimicrobial Subscriptions to End Upsurging Resistance (PASTEUR) as an example of how governments can stem the use of antibiotics while promoting investment.

"An extraordinary problem, like (anti-microbial resistance), demands out-of-the box solutions to educate the public. They are your customers, they are your consumers," Davies told the investors, later adding "as investors, we trust you and need you."

Jo Raven, senior manager at Farm Animal Investment Risk and Return, said there has been a reduction in use of antibiotics globally, but not all countries report use of the drugs.

"If we look at emerging markets — including China — antibiotic use is actually projected to increase in the coming years with the intensification of animal agriculture and a lack of regulation and enforcement restricting the use of antibiotics," said Raven.


Worldwide sales and marketing of antibiotics for use in growth promotion are inconsistent, even within a corporation, with regulations in developed countries limiting use for that purpose but less so in developing nations, said Raven.

"If a company, for example, operates in the (European Union), then it should adopt these standards in all relevant markets," she said.

However, it will take more investment to tackle the issue. Companies must limit financial losses caused by declining sales of antibiotics through alternative drugs and treatments, and by exploring different animal health markets, said Raven.

"Some progress is being made but much more needs to be done given the urgency of the issue," she added.

- The Western Producer