The use of antibiotics in poultry and pig farming in Asia is set to increase by more than 120% by 2030, as reported by the Guardian, causing global concerns about it’s effect on antibiotic resistance for humans and animals. The Guardian’s article focused on a recently published financial report by FAIRR (Farm Animal Investment Risk & Return) which details the huge increase in demand for meat in Asia, predicted to grow 19% by 2025 to an estimated 144 million tonnes. The report also highlights many damning aspects of the animal agriculture industry in Asia stating that:
“The Asian meat, egg, fish and dairy industries face a range of poorly managed sustainability risks that could derail returns. These include threats to food safety, public health, the environment and labour rights.”
However, it is the reports focus on the overuse of antibiotics that has caught the attention of Western media. Chapter 2, “Public Health Risk”, discusses in detail the increasing risk that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock could have on global public health. Specifically the rise in cases of swine and avian flu which are becoming far more widespread with each new strain. According to the WHO (World Health Organisation) between 2003-2006 there were 263 cases and 158 deaths of avian flu strain H5N1, compared to 761 cases and 291 deaths of H7N9 between 2013-2016. The more recently developed H7N9 strain of avian flu, which emerged in China, has proven to be far more infectious than H5N1.
Alongside the impact these flu-viruses are having on humans is the catastrophic effect on the animals themselves. Two of the lesser known strains have resulted in the cull of over 35 million birds in South Korea in 2016 & 2017, equal to more than one-fifth of the country’s poultry population. This left South Korea in desperate need to import eggs in order to “make up supplies”, initially turning to the United States before having to switch to Thailand due to the discovery of the H7N9 strain in Tennessee.
Asia’s concentrated animal production systems provide the perfect environment for the rapid spread of these livestock viruses. The increase of these viruses is particularly alarming as, “every individual’s use of antibiotics affects the ability of every other person to use the same antibiotics”. Meaning that this will have an impact on antibiotic resistance not only throughout Asia but globally, within animals and humans.
The WHO highlights antibiotic resistance as one of the biggest threats to global health and it is becoming clearer that the overuse of antibiotics in livestock is something that needs to be addressed immediately if we are to prevent huge catastrophes in the near future. FFAIR conclude by stating that;
“Failure to ensure the prudent use of antibiotics could result in the rise of antibiotic resistant superbugs that have the potential to undermine modern medicine, cause hundreds of thousands of deaths and cost the global economy trillions in lost output.”