Antimicrobial resistance was top of the agenda at a meeting of international science ministers in the UK yesterday ahead of the G8 summit.
The meeting, which took place at the Royal Society in London, was the first conference of science ministers from G8 countries for five years. The ministers discussed the role of science in tackling a range of international challenges, with antibiotic resistance billed as one of the most important issues.
Speaking before the meeting, UK science minister David Willetts said he wanted to discuss how the world’s eight wealthiest nations could work together to address the problem of antimicrobial resistance and create new, effective drugs.
“I want to discuss with my G8 counterparts how we can better address the issue of antibiotic resistance, drawing on the expertise of our science and research bases to speed up the introduction of new drugs,” he said.
“Open data and open access to research are also important international issues that I want to see progress on. They are fundamental to the government’s transparency agenda and will speed up scientific discovery and drive growth,”
The ministers also discussed whether the use of antibiotics in livestock production has had any impact on human levels of antimicrobial resistance.
The meeting was welcomed by the Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics, a group of UK organisations including Compassion in World Farming, Sustain and the European Public Health Alliance.
Richard Young, policy advisor at the Soil Association, said the G8 leaders needed to acknowledge the fact that the UK was “courting disaster” by routinely giving animals antibiotics when they were not ill. “Urgent action is needed to restrict the routine use of antibiotics in farming in order to address this problem,” he said.
“If we continue to use antibiotics routinely in healthy animals to prop up intensive livestock production, we will increasingly find they do not work when they are really needed and that will cause major economic problems for farmers and a catastrophe for human health.”
The Responsible Use Of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA), which represents farming and food organisations, also welcomed the discussions, but stressed that “responsible” use of antibiotics was vital to animal health.
“The RUMA Alliance welcomes the Minister’s call for the G8 to regard the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge and his comments on the need for responsible use of antibiotics in farming and human medicine,” said RUMA secretary general John FitzGerald.
“However, RUMA does not support a ban of all antibiotics in food production, as this would be detrimental to animal health and welfare. All medicines on farm should be used as little as possible and as much as necessary. This means managing farms to minimise the risk of disease and using medicines only when required and then using them appropriately.”
He added that antibiotic resistance was a complex issue, and that attempts to reduce usage to meet “arbitrary reduction targets” could actually increae the risk of resistance.
The UK government is set to publish its antimicrobial resistance strategy next month.