This letter has been sent by RUMA (Responsible use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance of which the NFU is a member) to The Guardian newspaper following an article about the use of antibiotics in food production.
Dear Mr Chadwick,
We are raising a complaint about Fiona Harvey’s article published online on 5 December 2017 and potentially also in the print version of The Guardian on 5 or 6 December 2017, entitled “Overuse of antibiotics in farming is a major new threat to human health, says UN”. The grounds for the complaint are inaccuracy. The paragraphs we are specifically complaining about are towards the end, and are:
“Resistance to antibiotics is now considered one of the biggest threats to human health. England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has repeatedly warned that it could result in routine operations such as hip replacements becoming life-threatening within a few years, if the spread of resistance cannot be halted.
“So far, efforts to curb resistance in the UK have focused on the prescribing of antibiotics to people, for instance with a new campaign to dissuade people from asking their doctors for antibiotics for ailments for which they would be ineffective.
“However, investigations by the Guardian have found that the use of antibiotics in farming is likely to be a key, but overlooked, factor in the spread of resistance.”
The inaccuracies are:
1. Efforts to curb resistance in the UK have not focused on the prescribing of antibiotics to people. The government strategy* is a One Health approach which includes humans, animals and the environment. A major element of the AMR strategy is working to reduce the use of antibiotics in farming and this has resulted in a 10% fall in antibiotics sales 2014-2015, and a further 21% reduction 2015-2016, totalling a 27% reduction in antibiotics sales for use in farm animals in just two years. This was announced at a joint RUMA/VMD conference on 27 October, at which Ms Harvey was present and on which she reported in The Guardian https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/27/farming-sector-aims-to-cut-antibiotics-use-to-help-tackle-human-resistance. By comparison, human prescriptions as reported in the annual ESPAUR reports *https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/oct/27/farming-sector-aims-to-cut-antibiotics-use-to-help-tackle-human-resistance fell 4.3% 2014-2015, and 0.9% 2015-2016. Ambitious sets of antibiotic use targets for each farming sector were also announced on 27 October. No such detailed targets have yet been laid out in human medicine. There can be no doubt whatsoever that there is a very strong and public focus on use of antibiotics in farm animals and Ms Harvey’s article is not only inaccurate but misleading.
2. While the role of use of antibiotics in farming in causing drug resistant infections in humans remains widely debated, it is categorically untrue to say that the potential for use in farming to be a factor is overlooked. This is evidenced by the focus and results achieved.
While at the conference on 27 October, Ms Harvey will also probably have heard Professor Paul Cosford, Director for Health Protection and Medical Director for Public Health England, say: “Misinformation spread within the medical sector about livestock antibiotic use needs tackling…”. We regret to say that this misinformation is being actively generated by The Guardian by the inaccuracies it presents as well as the tone of its reporting. We accept that the demographic of Guardian reader and the well known stance of the publication itself will never allow The Guardian to warm to some kinds of farming, but this continuing negative, inaccurate and misleading portrayal of facts must stop.
We demand a correction in both print and online at the earliest opportunity, and a commitment that facts relating to this area will be fairly and accurately reported in the future.