Friends of the Earth have called for the Government’s expert committee on antimicrobial resistance to look at the widespread use of nano-silver in consumer products.

The call follows the release of a survey by the Australian Group on Antimicrobial Resistance in The Age which found a ”worrying trend” of E. coli and Klebsiella species to produce enzymes that make them resistant to some of the most powerful antibiotics.

This adds to the findings of a recent University of Notre Dame report which found that our widespread use of nano-silver presents an emerging safety and ethics problem.

The overuse of antibiotics by Australians is contributing to a crisis that the World Health Organisation has labelled one of the greatest threats to human health today.

In Australia more than 7000 deaths each year are caused by bacteria resistance to antimicrobials and antibiotics. The medical community has been turning to nano-silver as an antimicrobial of last resort.

Yet at the same time, many companies have seen a marketing advantage in including nano-silver as an ingredient in everyday products such as socks, underpants, toothbrushes and cleaning clothes. These products are available in leading Australian retailers such as K-Mart, Rebel Sport, BigW, Retravision, Priceline, Best Buy and Kathmandu. Using such a powerful antimicrobial in these everyday products is not only unnecessary but dangerous.

Australia’s top microbiologists are warning that the widespread use of nano-silver in ‘antibacterial’ and ‘odour-killing’ consumer products will breed superbugs, leading to more Australian deaths in hospitals.

Last year Friends of the Earth surveyed leading health experts including Professor John Turnidge, Professor Hatch Stokes and Associate Professor Tom Faunce for its report Nano-silver: policy failure puts public health at risk. These experts branded the regulation of nano-silver a “policy failure”.

In 2009, leading Australian health experts joined FoE’s call to remove these dangerous nano-silver products from the market. Yet today there is still effectively no regulation of nano-silver in Australia – no safety testing and no labelling.

Today, Friends of the Earth repeats our call for urgent government action to get these products off the market.