Hotspots of antibiotic-resistant superbugs are rising on farms around the world, the direct result of our excessive consumption of meat, with potentially disastrous consequences for human health, a she studies he found.
The areas of north-eastern India, north-eastern China and the Red River delta in Vietnam have been identified as crisis points in Asia, with equally separate areas such as Mexico and Johannesburg. But hotspots are expanding rapidly. The study uncovered areas where antibiotic resistance among farm animals was beginning to emerge in Kenya, Morocco, Uruguay, southern Brazil, central India and southern China.
The scientists, reporting on their work in the scientific journal Peer review, stated that there is a "window of opportunity" to limit the increase in resistant bacteria "by encouraging a transition to sustainable farming practices" worldwide, in particular in the highlighted countries.
"Regions affected by the highest levels of antimicrobial resistance [ADR] should take immediate action to preserve the effectiveness of essential antimicrobials in human medicine, limiting their use in animal production," the authors said.
They called the increase in demand for meat "the most noteworthy dietary trend of our time", with demand rising by almost 70% in Asia alone since 2000. But since demand is met by an agriculture highly intensive, often with animals raised in conditions of poverty, has fueled the use of antibiotics, used in many countries to maintain healthy livestock and promote faster growth.
This excessive use leads to the development of superbug resistant to key drugs, which will probably spread from the already identified hotspots, with "potentially serious consequences for public health", the study noted.
The rise of superbugs that are not curable even by the strongest antibiotics is one of the biggest threats the world faces, according to the outgoing UK medical officer, Sally Davies, who warned of an "apocalyptic" threat and the end of modern medicine.
Coilin Nunan, the scientific consultant of the Alliance to save our antibioticsstates that the study raised "serious concerns" about global meat consumption and the intensification of livestock farming.
"Increases in antibiotic resistance [in developing countries] are significantly higher in pigs and poultry than in cattle, in line with increased intensification [of agricultural practices]," he said. "There are also many more hot spots in Asia, where livestock is more intense than in Africa, where meat consumption is generally low. But also in Africa the zootechny is gradually intensifying and the study has discovered points of emerging crisis ".
China and India are home to more than half of the world's pigs and chickens, but controls on the use of antibiotics in agriculture are lax. Nearly three quarters of the antibiotic medicines used worldwide are used on food-grown animals and the growing resistance to such drugs is breeding superbugs that can be transferred to humans.
Scientists have struggled to estimate the magnitude of the problem due to the lack of data in most developing countries. The study shows that the percentage of pathogens infecting chicken and barnyard pigs that were "significantly resistant" to antibiotics increased between 2000 and 2018.
Catrin Moore, of the Big Data Institute of Oxford, stated that an internationally coordinated action is needed. "A series of measures must be taken at the same time, such as the development of new antibiotics, a good diagnostic tool to determine the infectious agent [when the cattle becomes ill] and information on resistance to affect the infection rather than use prophylactic antibiotics, "he said. "Also, stop the use of antibiotics as growth promoters and their use in a prophylactic way."
Kristen Reyher, a reader of veterinary epidemiology at the University of Bristol, who was not involved in the study, said: "This underlines the importance of monitoring and surveillance of antimicrobial resistant pathogens and antimicrobial use, both in human and animal populations. It is essential to understand the reasons why these medicines are used in breeding systems, to direct drivers to the use and transmission of antimicrobial resistance ".
Although the study found that hotspots are concentrated in developing countries, the results have implications for the Brexit post in the UK, said Nunan. "If the government decides to cut tariffs on imported meat, there may be an increase in imports from countries where there are low standards of animal welfare and weak or non-existent rules on the use of antibiotics on farms"