Factory farming and the rise of superbugs
What are Superbugs?
Factory farming remains one of the leading causes of animal suffering around the world. But did you know that factory farming and poor animal welfare practices can also lead to the excessive use of antibiotics? Around the world, antibiotics are used routinely to prop up low animal welfare practices on factory farms, preventing animals that are confined and stressed from otherwise getting sick thanks to the poor conditions in which they are kept.
There is ample science showing how antibiotic overuse on factory farms can lead to antibiotic-resistant superbugs, that can spread to workers, the environment and into the food chain. Watch this video to find out more about the threat of superbugs.
Essentially, overuse of antibiotics and the rise of superbugs may cost us the advances of modern medicine, with procedures such as routine surgeries or chemotherapy potentially becoming too dangerous. Already, superbugs are responsible for approximately 1.3 million deaths a year, a figure that’s expected to rise to 10 million deaths a year by 2050.
Watch this short video about Superbugs
What’s the situation in Australia?
Given the large volume of antibiotics used in farming around the world, World Animal Protection commissioned a report from FAI Farms to find out more about antibiotic use in Australian animal agriculture.
The results of the research report reveal that Australia is lagging behind other developed OECD countries with how antibiotics are used in farming. It also shows an alarming lack of transparency, with the Government keeping the public in the dark about what antibiotics are being sold for animal agriculture and how they are being used across Australia.
The last public reporting on antibiotic sales to the agriculture industry is now more than 10 years out of date. Find out more about how Australia compares in this video.
What is Australia's position on Antibiotic use in farming?
It is clear that Australia has fallen behind other countries in several key areas of concern:
💊 Antibiotics are still given to animals to promote faster growth
💊 Antibiotics are routinely given to groups of animals who are not sick, to prevent infections
❓ Australia does not publicly report the sales of antibiotics to the agriculture industry – keeping the public in the dark about what is being sold and how it’s being used.
What is the solution?
While Australia has taken some positive steps by not registering certain antibiotics of critical importance to human health for use in animal agriculture, our report makes it clear that more needs to be done.
The threat posed by the rise of superbugs requires urgent action. World Animal Protection recommends the Government:
✅ Immediately ban the use of antibiotics for growth promotion, as has already been done in 90 other countries around the world. Using low doses of antibiotics over an extended period can foster resistance to antibiotics, leading to the rise of superbugs.
✅ Ban antibiotics being routinely given to groups of animals that are not sick. Prolonged, routine use of antibiotics fosters resistance, giving rise to superbugs.
✅ Improve the welfare of Australian farmed animals. If animals are at increased risk of infection because of overcrowding, poor diets high in grain, or because their breeds have poor health outcomes, then the root cause needs to be addressed. Antibiotics cannot be used to prop up poor welfare on farms. It is irresponsible and puts us all at risk.
✅ Australia needs to introduce mandatory, annual public reporting of antibiotic sales and use data. The public has a right to know what volume of antibiotics are being used and for what purpose. Millions of lives depend on the responsible use of antibiotics and the Government cannot keep us in the dark.
✅ Introduce system-wide monitoring of antimicrobial resistance (superbugs) in animal agriculture, the environment and across the food chain. Currently, the animal agriculture industry acknowledges that national monitoring for antibiotic use, as well as the rise of antimicrobial resistance or superbugs, is only “ad-hoc.” Given the very real threat posed by the misuse of antibiotics and the rise of superbugs, we need a comprehensive and systemic approach to monitoring and reporting.
Global Commentary on superbugs
“If we do not slow the rise of antimicrobial resistance, we will return to the dark ages of medicine where surgery becomes inherently risky and currently treatable infections and injuries kill once again".
David Cameron, former UK Prime Minister:
“Resistance to antibiotics is now a very real and worrying threat, as bacteria mutate to become immune to their effects…….If we fail to act, we are looking at an almost unthinkable scenario where antibiotics no longer work and we are cast back into the dark ages of medicine where treatable infections and injuries will kill once again”
“Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to both human and animal health today….. For many years we have enjoyed the benefits of antibiotics. They improve the safety of many medical procedures and treat many common bacterial infections. Without effective antibiotics many bacterial infections could cause serious illness or even death”.
What does the public think?
Over 15,700 people were surveyed across 15 countries in the poll by Flood and Partners to gain an understanding of their knowledge and attitude towards antibiotic use in farming, antimicrobial resistance, and pandemic risk from farm animals. People were surveyed in Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Mexico, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, Sweden, Thailand, the UK, and the United States.
On average across countries, people thought about 52% of antibiotics were used in farming. Many people expressed “shock” and “concern” upon learning the actual number is over 75%, globally.
Take this quiz to test your knowledge about antibiotic use in farming
To find out more about what needs to change to address the threat of superbugs, and give animals lives worth living, you can download our full report here: Antimicrobial use governance in the Australian food animal sector.