Antibiotics (Intensive Farms)

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 9th January 2013.

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Photo of Zac Goldsmith Zac Goldsmith Conservative, Richmond Park 4:42 pm, 9th January 2013

Again, I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman’s point, and I thank him for making it. I will come to that in more detail shortly.

There is no argument against treating sick animals with antimicrobials but, surely, not the most modern and medically important ones, especially when other antibiotics, which are not as critically important in human medicine, are available. I recognise that this topic does not lend itself easily to tabloid news, but there is a real, worrying chance that that could change. By overusing antibiotics, we risk ruining for future generations one of the great discoveries of our species. In short, we risk entering the post-antibiotics age.

My hon. Friend the Minister will know that some antibiotics have already been lost to resistance: for example, penicillin for staphylococcal wound infections, ampicillin for infections of the urinary tract and ciprofloxacin for treating gonorrhoea. Many more are under threat, and new antibiotics are increasingly hard to find and license. We are now using our reserve antibiotics, and worryingly, seeing the spread of resistance to them as well. For example, rises in resistance, such as those seen for E. coli, force doctors to use carbapenems, which were previously the reserve antibiotics for use when other treatments had completely failed. However, we are now using carbapenems much more and seeing the spread of resistance to them as well.

University of Cambridge researchers revealed the first cases in UK livestock of a new strain of the multi-resistant superbug MRSA. It is called ST398, and it has become endemic in European and north American pig populations and has spread to poultry and cattle. It is significant because, unlike most strains of staphylococcus aureus found in farm animals, it is readily able to transfer to humans. If not checked, that is likely to lead to rising community-acquired MRSA, just at the time that hospital-acquired MRSA is falling, due to sterling efforts by health professionals.