The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics welcomes scientific investment aimed at combating the global threat of antibiotic resistance and we are pleased that Oxford University recognises that the overuse of these medicines in livestock is contributing significantly to the problem.
However, we are not convinced the best approach is to focus on developing new animal-only antibiotics. Such antibiotics are already available and are often used without veterinary oversight to support the intensification of farming and, in some countries, for growth promotion. Introducing new animal-only antibiotics may simply enable further intensification. Scientific evidence shows that intensive farms can be breeding grounds for new bacterial superbugs and new types of viruses with pandemic potential in humans.
The best way to reduce antibiotic resistance in livestock is to ban all routine use of antibiotics, including preventative mass medication, and to support a shift to higher-welfare, less intensive husbandry systems where disease does not emerge or spread so easily.
By far the most widely used antibiotics in UK agriculture today are animal-only drugs called the ionophores. They are added routinely to the feed of intensively farmed poultry, without any need for a veterinary prescription, to control infections caused by the unhygienic conditions in which the birds live.
In some other countries, such as the US, further types of animal-only antibiotics are licensed for routine disease prevention or for growth promotion. However, the US still uses over five times more medically important antibiotics per livestock unit than the UK does (read our recent report and media coverage for more on this), showing that increased use of animal-only antibiotics does not necessarily reduce the use on farms of antibiotics used in human medicine.