September 8, 2016
Antibiotic resistance in humans remains largely attributed to human medical use, the chair of the UK-based Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture Alliance (RUMA) said, citing a recent study confirming farm animal use could be responsible for as few as one in every 370 clinical cases.
Gwyn Jones asserted, "Good kitchen hygiene, washing hands after handling raw meat and thorough cooking of meat will almost completely prevent the transmission of antimicrobial resistance from meat to man."
"Despite this," he added, "the farming industry must also play its part to control spread of resistance." For this reason, he said, RUMA is setting up an industry task force to "look at how meaningful targets can be developed to replace, reduce and refine antibiotic use in UK agriculture."
Jones said UK farming was already focused on reducing use of antibiotics deemed critically important for human medicine (CIAs).
"Sales into farming of fluoroquinolones and 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins, which are CIAs, are already very low in the UK, representing just 0.9% of the total," he said.
He said that in 2012 the poultry meat industry introduced a voluntary ban on the use of 3rd- and 4th-generation cephalosporins, and a commitment to reduce the use of fluoroquinolones which has since led to an overall reduction. The 3rd and 4th generation cephalosporins authorised for use in pigs cannot be given in-feed or in-water and are only administered to individual animals.
Jones further said:
"[D]espite colistin making up less than 0.2% of UK antibiotic use in UK livestock, RUMA announced a voluntary restriction in December 2015 that it should only be used as the last effective antibiotic available for treating the sick animal.
"So while it's very positive that no colistin and fluoroquinolone resistance was found in these samples, the discovery of bacteria resistant to modern cephalosporins when so few are being used only serves to underline the complexity of this issue, and the need to tread carefully—as interventions are not without consequence".
He explained that bacterial infections and associated inflammation undoubtedly cause pain and discomfort to animals. The treatment of such infections is a requirement of both national and EU animal welfare legislation and all vets are under oath to protect the health and welfare of the animals in their care.
"Therefore, the benefits of any restrictions for public health need to be clear, and balanced against the impact of restricted antibiotic use on animal welfare, the economic viability of our farms and overall UK food security. Badly handled, there is a real risk we will end up importing produce which increases risk to human health if our own, highly regulated industry is rendered unviable through arbitrary curbs", Jones said.