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New treatment could dramatically reduce farm antibiotics use

Staff Writer | June 10, 2017
Researchers from the University of Leicester have suggested an alternative to antibiotic use to treat disease in livestock animals.
farm antibiotics
Farmers   University of Leicester
That happnede late on Thursday, just days after industry antibiotics campaign group RUMA announced that use of "last resort" antibiotic colistin dropped significantly in the pig industry in 2016.

The Leicester research looked into using bacteriophages - a range of viruses that can kill disease-causing bacteria - as an alternative to antibiotics to treat common infections in livestock.

The aim of the research was to come up with an alternative to antibiotics which are also used in human medicine, and which are under threat from growing resistance, even to treatments used as a last line of defence.

The study, led by Professor Martha Clokie and funded by levy board AHDB Pork, has determined that phage could accompany or replace the use of antibiotics across all livestock sectors, though the initial research project looked at treatment in pigs.

Researchers isolated 20 bacteriophages that combatted 72 multi-antibiotic resistant strains of the most important causes of gut problems in pigs. What’s more, the scientists were able to dry out the phages to form a powder which could be given to animals in feed.

The Leicester researcher said bacteriophages (or phages) are much more specific than antibiotics and are used outside of the West to treat a whole range of bacterial infections, many of which do not respond to conventional antibiotics.

In the UK, 40% of all antibiotics are used to treat animals, and campaign groups have been putting mounting pressure on farm groups to reduce antibiotic use in livestock.

Though industry groups continue to deny mounting evidence that the use of antibiotics in farming has links to resistance in human medicine, the UK government’s 2015 O’Neil Review on antimicrobial resistance contained concrete recommendations to tackle resistance in the farm sector.