G7 ministers commit to combat antibiotic pollution from drug manufacturing

In the declaration from the recent G7 meeting in the UK, antibiotic resistance was high on the agenda, including the risks associated with pollution from drug manufacturing. There is now explicit support from G7 to reward pollution control in drug procurement and subsidy systems, amend the Good Manufacturing Framework (GMP) with pollution control, establish international emission standards for antibiotics and increase transparency in the production chains.

Joakim Larsson, professor in Environmental Pharmacology and the Director of the Centre for Antibiotic Resistance Research (CARe) at the University of Gothenburg, has done research on industrial antibiotic emission and ways to incentivise actions in this area for nearly 15 years. He also supported the G7 UK leadership in the preparation for the high-level meeting.

  • I am delighted to see that many of the leading democracies in the world now clearly acknowledge that antibiotic pollution from manufacturing is posing an unacceptable risk to public health. Many of the types of actions that we have advocated for years are now included in the commitments from the G7 leadership, concludes Larsson. 

There is already some actions taken with regards to e.g. procurement and subsidies in Scandinavia. Also, industry has, through the AMR alliance, committed to voluntary discharge targets since a couple of years back. Still, according to the Access to Medicines Foundation, none of the major antibiotic producers reveals where they produce their active ingredients, nor what emissions of antibiotics they have from their factories.

  • Hence, industries’ progress is difficult to evaluate, and it is almost impossible to hold international companies accountable for emissions that may take place on a different continent than where the final medicines are sold, says Larsson. The traction to move forward and increase pressure from different direction is greatly enhanced by these clear statements from G7, says Larsson. There is also recent support from European Parliament along the same lines.

The G7 calls upon the WHO to include pollution control in GMP, a framework that today is focussed on ensuring the quality of the medicines. Also the G7 calls for collaborative efforts to rapidly establish pollution standards.

  • Industry has recently taken the initiative to set an international standard for reducing antibiotic emissions. Although such a standard potentially would be very useful, I am a bit concerned that the process is driven by what could be seen as “the polluters”, says Larsson. It will be critical that a standard that is applied in procurement, subsidy systems, GMP or any other similar context is broadly endorsed by the scientific community, Larsson concludes.