Bacteria in humans, food and animals continues to show resistance to antimicrobials, finds EU report

By Jane Byrne

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Antimicrobial resistance Antibiotic resistance Escherichia coli European union Eu Salmonella

Resistance to widely used antimicrobials, such as ciprofloxacin, was commonly detected in bacteria in poultry, finds a new EU report on antimicrobial resistance in zoonotic bacteria.   

The report, published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC)​, said analysis of data submitted by EU countries for 2014, shows antimicrobial resistance (AMR) poses a serious risk to human and animal health, with bacteria in humans, food and animals continuing to show resistance to such drugs.

The monitoring of AMR bacteria from animals and food focused on broilers, laying hens and fattening turkey, said EFSA.

The publication found prevalence of multi-drug resistance was high in bacteria in humans — at 26% — and especially high in broiler and turkey meat, 24.8% and 30.5%, respectively.

It also reported evidence of high to extremely high resistance to ciprofloxacin, nalidixic acid and tetracyclines in broilers.

In addition, the review noted that multi-drug resistant Salmonella bacteria continue to spread across Europe.

Resistance to widely used antimicrobials was commonly detected in Salmonella from humans — tetracyclines 30%, sulphonamides 28.2%, ampicillin 28.2% — and poultry, according to the findings.

The scientists involved in drafting the report warned that resistance to ciprofloxacin, an antimicrobial that is critically important for the treatment of human infections, is very high in Campylobacter, thus reducing the options for effective treatment of severe foodborne infections.

Extended scope

EFSA said next year the report will include AMR data on pigs and cattle.

The two organizations said that recently introduced changes to the way AMR is monitored in food-producing animals and food mean that data are now more specific, much easier to compare between various countries and sectors.

And they said the scope of the monitoring is now much larger.

For the first time, the report included data on resistance to colistin in birds, with evidence given of resistance to that antimicrobial in Salmonella and E. coli among poultry in the EU.

Mike Catchpole, chief scientist for the ECDC, said that was a particularly worrying trend because it “means that this last-resort drug may soon no longer be effective for treating severe human infections with Salmonella.”


Resistance to colistin, an antimicrobial commonly used in some countries for the control of E. coli infections, especially in pigs, has been recently reported in China.

The corresponding gene, mcr-1, was found on a mobile genetic element, which can be transmitted between bacteria. Colistin resistance in bacteria from humans and animals was previously thought to be chromosomally related and thus unlikely to be transferred between bacteria.

The report also included information on the occurrence of Salmonella and E. coli strains that produce an extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) and/or a carbapenemase, enzymes that confer resistance to the critically important third-generation antimicrobials cephalosporins and carbapenems, respectively.

The occurrence of extended spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) was observed at low levels in Salmonella from poultry, found the analysis. However, a clone of multidrug-resistant and ESBL-producing Salmonella Infantis was reported in both humans and poultry.

The publication found significant regional differences, with the highest levels of AMR observed in eastern and southern Europe.

Marta Hugas, who heads up EFSA’s Biological Hazards and Contaminants unit, said that in northern Europe, there is lower resistance in bacteria from poultry, particularly in countries with low use of antimicrobials in animals.


Vytenis Andriukaitis, EU Commissioner for Health and Food Safety, said antimicrobial resistance is a global problem that requires a global solution.

The European Platform for the Responsible use of Medicines in Animals (EPRUMA) sent this publication a statement. It said it is “happy to note that the trend analyses observed in the latest joint EFSA/ECDC EU-wide report on antimicrobial resistance show that in several member states efforts to stabilise and reduce absolute levels of resistance are delivering.”

It said its partners’ firm commitment to the responsible use of veterinary medicines, including antibiotics, is making a difference on the ground.

According to EPRUMA, responsible use is based on a holistic approach of minimizing disease through a wide choice of tools such as biosecurity, good housing and ventilation, good hygiene, appropriate nutrition and robust animals, regular monitoring of animal health and welfare, animal health planning, use of diagnostics, vaccination and using and maintaining the pharmacovigilance system when necessary, as well as the use of veterinary medicines, as required by law.

The group also said it firmly supports the principle of transparency, such as data-collection on use and monitoring resistance to further priorities actions and maximize their impact on the leading parameter, antibiotic resistance level.

The European Feed Manufacturers’ Federation (FEFAC) said further reducing the need for antibiotics for animal health purposes must be a key objective for the EU livestock chain.

Its stance is that adequate nutrition that meets the demands for the maintenance of optimal animal health, together with controlled farm housing conditions, could already contribute to this minimization: “For example, research has been able to identify certain feed components that would have a positive impact on animal gut health, a vital element for resistance to infections and diseases."

And FEFAC said it very supportive of the EU Commission goals to improve the legal framework regarding animal health and antimicrobial resistance. 

EFSA has produced an infographic on AMR in Europe that it has released in conjunction with the report. 

Related topics Regulation Poultry Europe Antibiotics

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