Expert proposes user fee for agriculture use of antibiotics

Dec. 26, 2013 at 1:41 AM
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CALGARY, Alberta, Dec. 26 (UPI) -- The indiscriminate use of antibiotics by the agriculture and aquaculture industries poses a threat to public health, but a Canadian expert suggests a user fee.

Aidan Hollis, an economics professor at the University of Calgary, and co-author Ziana Ahmed said in the United States 80 percent of the antibiotics in the country are consumed in agriculture and aquaculture for the purpose of increasing food production.

This flood of antibiotics released into the environment -- sprayed on fruit trees and fed to livestock, poultry and salmon, among other uses -- has led bacteria to evolve, Hollis explained.

Mounting evidence showed resistant pathogens are emerging in the wake of this veritable flood of antibiotics – resulting in an increase in bacteria that is immune to available treatments.

If left unchecked, this will create a health crisis on a global scale, Hollis said.

Hollis suggest that the predicament could be greatly alleviated by imposing a user fee on the non-human uses of antibiotics, similar to the way in which logging companies pay stumpage fees and oil companies pay royalties.

"Modern medicine relies on antibiotics to kill off bacterial infections," Hollis said in a statement."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 anti-microbials. Ordinary infections will kill otherwise healthy people."

Bacteria that can effectively resist antibiotics will thrive, Hollis said, reproducing rapidly and spreading in various ways.

"It's not just the food we eat," he said. "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."

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