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Chief medical officer urges public to buy organic meat

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Shoppers should buy organic or high-welfare meat to help fight combat the grave threat of antibiotic resistance in humans, England’s chief medical officer has said.

Dame Sally Davies has urged consumers to buy meat from animals that have been vaccinated rather than treated with antibiotics, in order to combat a danger to human health she has called “apocalyptic”.

She hopes a shift in shopping habits could pressure the meat industry to move away from antibiotics that are currently used to prevent infection and speed up growth, particularly in intensive farming.

The substances do not remain in the meat of the animals when it is sold, but pass into the environment through their urine and other kinds of waste and contribute to resistance in humans.

Dame Sally said consumers should look out for the Red Tractor labelling, which indicates meat is reared to carefully monitored standards including the demand that farmers only prescribe drugs when animals are ill.

“I want animals that have been reared with good welfare standards and, actually, that means very low antibiotic use,” she said.

Officials warned in October that the antibiotic resistance threatened a public health crisis.

Blood infections caused by antibiotic resistance rose 35% between 2013 and 2017, and growing resistance could make now-simple procedures as well as cancer treatments, potentially deadly.

“Without swift action to reduce infections, we are at risk of putting medicine back in the dark ages – to an age where common procedures we take for granted could become too dangerous to perform and treatable conditions become life threatening,” Dame Sally said.

She has long warned that the “apocalyptic scenario is that when I need a new hip in 20 years I’ll die from a routine infection because we’ve run out of antibiotics”.

At present, 85-90% of British meat currently bears the Red Tractor logo, but globally, the use of antibiotics is higher: in the United States more than 70% of antibiotics important to human medicine are also used in animals.

In 2015 a UN survey recommended a global target and strict monitoring standards for the reduction of global antibiotic use.

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