The misuse and over-use of antibiotics on farm animals is increasing the problem of antimicrobial resistance, or superbugs, in humans, a report prepared for the UK government has warned.
The report's authors looked at the results of 139 studies into the use of antibiotics in agriculture and found a link between the routine feeding of antibiotics to animals and the growing number of cases of antibiotic-resistant bacteria threatening human health and sometimes leaving doctors with no way to treat patients.
The report says the risks associated with the high use of antimicrobials in animal populations are threefold.
"Firstly, it presents the risk that drug-resistant strains are passed on through direct contact between humans and animals (notably farmers)," the report says.
"Secondly, these drug-resistant strains have the potential to be passed on to humans more generally through the food chain, ie, when consumers prepare or eat the meat itself.
"Finally, there is a further indirect threat to human health as result of animal excretion."
Jim O'Neill, the chairman of the UK's Review on Antimicrobial Resistance, told Al Jazeera on Tuesday that the underlying problem is that "all seven billion humans take too many antibiotics".
"We treat them like sweets and the problem is compounded in some parts of the world, made even worse by the same behaviour with animals," he said.
The report reveals that in many countries more drugs are given to animals than to humans and many farm animals are fed the antibiotics in an "excessive and inappropriate" way, often routinely to boost their growth.
"Misuse in animals is probably worse than in humans," O'Neill said.
"We need much more stringent measures in some key parts of the world, notably the United States, [and] also in many parts of the developing world, especially the large populated countries such as China and India."
The report calls for a global target to reduce the use of antibiotics in food production, alongside new controls over which antibiotics should be used in both animals and humans.
"We are suggesting a 10-year timetable for introducing a global limit," said O'Neill.
"One of the reasons we say that is our awareness and sympathy for the challenges in the emerging world."
The report also recommends limits to stop the release of active pharmaceutical ingredients during the manufacturing of antibiotics, and improved surveillance systems to monitor the use of the drugs.
"Even the best-practising countries suffer the consequences of growing resistance because of the bad behaviour of elsewhere. It's important that we all do the right thing," O'Neill said.
Source: Al Jazeera