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THE Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) has welcomed a BBC 1 Panorama programme, broadcast on May 18, which focused on the worldwide spread of antibiotic-resistant ‘superbugs’ and the threat that they pose to modern medicine. RUMA described the programme, ‘Antibiotics Apocalypse’, as ‘excellent’, saying that it ‘painted a clear picture of the use of antibiotics in human medicine and the potentially serious impact of antibiotic resistance on treating human bacterial infections’.
RUMA notes that the programme briefly focused on the inappropriate use of antibiotics in animals in the USA, particularly on their use in growth promotion. It gave the example of American farmed salmon eating their bodyweight in antibiotics over their lifetime. In a press release on May 19, the alliance pointed out that antibiotic growth promoters are banned in the European Union and have not been used in the UK since January 2006. It also noted that UK salmon farms used only a few hundred kilograms of antibiotics to produce 163,000 tonnes of salmon in 2013, the most recent year for which figures are available. Salmon farms in the UK use vaccine programmes to prevent disease and reduce the need to use antibiotics.
RUMA also noted that the Panorama programme raised particular concerns about the uncontrolled availability of carbapenems in emerging markets such as India, where, it was reported, it is possible to buy even single doses over the counter, without a doctor's prescription. RUMA pointed out that carbapenems are not authorised for use in food-producing animals in the EU and are not used in livestock production in the UK.
John FitzGerald, secretary general of RUMA, said: ‘This was a balanced programme which correctly concentrated on antibiotic use in humans which is widely recognised as the major source of antibiotic resistance in humans.’ However, he said, the livestock sector must not be complacent. ‘Antibiotics should be used responsibly on farm to minimise the risk of animal use leading to resistance in humans.’