Overuse of Antibiotics, the Chilean consumer perspective

16 September 2016

Speech by Stefan Larenas, President of  Chilean CI Member ODECU at Intelligence Squared debate: The End of Antibiotics? at New York Academy of Sciences, 14th September 2016

I am happy to speak to you on the important topic of preserving the effectiveness of antibiotics. This requires reducing antibiotic use in humans AND in food animal production. And I would like to say I speak here not just for Chilean consumers but also for other Latin American consumer organizations. My organization has been working since 2005 to research products and services and raise consumer awareness in Chile.

We are very concerned that there is very high use of antibiotics in the production of poultry and salmon, both of which are exported as well as consumed within Chile.

In poultry production, according to research by a Chilean university, colistin is the main antibiotic used in pork and poultry production preventatively. In Chile, this drug has the approval of the Agriculture and Farming Service.

We are concerned, as public health officials are all over the world, about recent data showing resistance to colistin in both food animals and in sick people. Colistin is an antibiotic doctors use when everything else fails. If resistance develops to this antibiotic too, in some situations doctors will be left with nothing to treat a sick patient.

Antibiotic use in salmon production, which is a very big industry in Chile, is also extremely high, much higher than in other countries. In Chile in 2013, more than 500,000 kilograms of antimicrobials were used in salmon production.

Whereas in Norway, which produced almost 50 percent more salmon, the industry used only 972 kilograms of antimicrobials. This is a shocking difference. The Chilean industry uses more than 900 times as much antimicrobials per kilogram of salmon as Norway does. Most disturbingly, a Norwegian company operates salmon farms in Chile. Why don’t they use the same standards and practices?

Because of our concerns, the Chilean consumer organization is participating in the Consumers International campaign, called “Antibiotics Off the Menu”, to persuade global fast food chains McDonalds, Subway and KFC to eliminate antibiotics, or at least antibiotics important in human medicine, from the food they serve in their restaurants. Consumer awareness of this problem in rising globally—in March of this year 90 consumer organizations joined this campaign.

A new report on US fast food chains, called Chain Reaction 2, is coming out next week. I understand that in North America, McDonald's has completely eliminated all medically important antibiotics in the production of the chicken it serves in its restaurants. Why, I have to ask, have they not done this in South America? This is a double standard. If their suppliers can do this in the USA, one would think they could explain to their suppliers in Chile how to raise chicken without medically important antibiotics.

Overuse of antibiotics is a global problem. Superbugs do not know national borders. When antibiotic resistance emerges in one place it travels rapidly around the world. So while action in the US, or Norway, is vitally important, we also need action in Chile and everywhere else food animals are raised. Antibiotic use must be limited to curing sickness in animals, just as it is in humans, not used to promote growth or prevent disease in factory farming conditions. We hope the nations of the world will take action on this serious problem at the UN High Level meeting on 21st September.