New reports reveal increased resistance to antibiotics in the food chain

By Helen Glaberson

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Antibiotic resistance, Salmonella

Resistance to antibiotics is increasing, according to research conducted by the Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), prompting concerns about the amount of drugs used for rearing livestock.

The institute advised a limitation on the antibiotics that are administered to animals: In order to prevent a further increase in resistances, the use of antibiotics should be limited to the absolutely necessary extent both in human and in veterinary medicine,” ​said the BfR.

The warning was made on the back of two assessments by the National Reference Laboratories for​salmonella and Antibiotic Resistance at the BfR, which reported a high resistance to antibiotics in the food chain.

Antibiotic resistance

Antibiotics are often used to treat infectious diseases in livestock. This is an issue of concern for some scientists and policy-makers who claim the overuse of antibiotic treatments has been linked to the emergence and spread of microbes which are resistant to them, potentially rendering future treatments ineffective.

The first BfR assessment tested salmonella isolates​according to epidemiological criteria between 2000 and 2008.

It was found that salmonella isolates originated mainly from animals and foods, showing higher resistance rates against antibiotics than the environment and feeds.

Of the 33,625 isolates, 48 per cent were resistant to at least one class of antibiotics and 35 per cent were resistant to more.

“A second, representative study carried out in 2009 confirms the results for salmonella and reaches similar results also for E coli and Campylobacter,”​ said BfR.

The institute expressed further concerns as it said resistant pathogens can also pass on their resistance to other pathogens.

“In this way the pool of resistance is extended and the risk for humans and animals increases, whereby watertight evidence for the transmission of these resistances to humans was so far only possible in individual cases,”​ said the BfR.

Consumer health protection

"Resistances to pathogens in animals and foods are a serious problem in consumer health protection,"​ said BfR President Professor Dr Andreas Hensel following the results of the two assessments.

This view is in line with an alliance of food and farming groups, including Soil Association, Food Ethics Council and Compassion in World Farming, who are calling for a reduction in the farm use of antibiotics.

Richard Young from the Soil Association said: “There has been little public scrutiny of farm antibiotic use for over a decade, yet during that time we have seen farmers dramatically increase their use of antibiotics classified by the WHO as ‘critically important in human medicine’.”

However, a counter argument is that the health of livestock and poultry would be impaired without the use of antibiotics.

The NFU, a trade association for UK farmers, said that it encouraged its members to be guided by the Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) guidelines when administering antibiotics.

According to the association, the drugs should be used “as little as possible but as much as necessary”.

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