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User Fee Could Curb Antibiotic Use on Farms

Update Date: Dec 26, 2013 09:39 AM EST

The safety behind the use of antibiotics on farm animals has been questioned recently. Due to the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria strains, which makes treating infections a lot more difficult, experts have stressed the importance of stopping the use of antibiotics on farms. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had recently published a new set of guidelines that asks global pharmaceutical companies to forbid the use of some antibiotics, particularly those that are used to enhance animal growth for food. In a new report, economics professor, Aidan Hollis and colleagues suggested that creating a user fee for the non-human use of antibiotics could reduce the usage on agricultural farms.

For this report, Hollis, who worked with co-author, Ziana Ahmed stated that roughly 80 percent of the antibiotics used within the Untied States are for animal enhancement. These antibiotics are used in agriculture and aquaculture with the sole purpose of increasing the nation's food production. The researchers cited that the increase use of antibiotics most likely contributed to the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria and if this situation is left unchecked, the researchers believe that a global health crisis could be within the near future.

"Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections," said Hollis according to a press release. "This is incredibly important. Without effective antibiotics, any surgery - even minor ones - will become extremely risky. Cancer therapies, similarly, are dependent on the availability of effective antimicrobials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people."

He added, "It's not just the food we eat. Bacteria is spread in the environment; it might wind up on a doorknob. You walk away with the bacteria on you and you share it with the next person you come into contact with. If you become infected with resistant bacteria, antibiotics won't provide any relief."

The researchers suggested one solution: add user fees on the use of antibiotics for non-human purposes. The researchers reasoned that if antibiotic use costs increase, farmers could be persuaded to avoid those costs by improving their animal management techniques. For example, instead of using antibiotics to increase the survival rates of young animals, farmers could turn to vaccinations. The researchers noted that stopping the use of antibiotics on farms is very difficult and might not even be effective since people will find ways around laws in order to increase their profits. Therefore, adding a fee that they cannot avoid might be more effective in curbing the use of antibiotics on farms.

The report was published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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