EU interagency report urges research into link between antibiotics and resistance

By Jane Byrne contact

- Last updated on GMT

© istock
© istock
A new EU report confirms the link between antibiotic consumption and antibiotic resistance in both humans and food-producing animals.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) jointly produced the publication​, the second of its kind.

It found there are still important differences across the EU in the use of antibiotics in animals and humans. Reducing their unnecessary use will have an impact on the occurrence of resistance.

They said the conclusions are in line with those of the first report published in 2015. “However, the availability of better quality data allowed for a more sophisticated analysis.”

Experts of the three agencies recommend further research to better understand how the use of antibiotics and resistance affect one another.

Overall, they concluded that antibiotic use is higher in farmed animals than in humans, but they said the situation varies across countries and according to the antibiotics.

The report shows the class of antibiotics called polymyxins – which includes colistin – are widely used in the veterinary sector, but are also increasingly used in hospitals to treat multidrug-resistant infections. 

Other antibiotics including third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins and quinolones, are more often used in humans than in animals. 

However, the report notes that resistance to quinolones, used to treat salmonellosis and campylobacteriosis in humans, is associated with the use of antibiotics in animals.

The use of third- and fourth-generation cephalosporins for the treatment of infections caused by E. coli and other bacteria in humans is associated with resistance to these antibiotics in E. coli found in humans, noted the publication.

Antibiotic use in UK livestock sector ‘comparatively low’

UK alliance, RUMA, which aims to produce a coordinated and integrated approach to best practice in animal medicine use, said the report confirms UK farm animal use is, comparatively, low against many of its European neighbors.

However, the group said the publication also highlights the potential for more responsible use in both humans and animals to reduce antibiotic resistance.

The report, noted RUMA, indicates that in 2014 “UK antibiotic use for humans was about average within Europe (Europe: 124mg/kg; UK: 129mg/kg) but 60% below average in animals (Europe: 152mg/kg; UK: 62mg/kg).

“UK farm animal use of the highest-priority critically important antibiotics was also very low, particularly colistin, where average consumption by farm animals in the UK was significantly below the European average.

“Resistance to fluoroquinolones in Salmonella and Campylobacter bacteria from humans is identified in the report to be related to consumption of fluoroquinolones in animals – ratifying one of the priorities of the UK poultry meat sector in achieving a 72% reduction in fluoroquinolone use between 2012 and 2016. However, it is stressed that resistance is complex, and factors other than the amount of antibiotics used can influence the level of resistance found.”

John FitzGerald, secretary general of RUMA, said the situation was likely to change rapidly as awareness grew of the contribution farming can make in a One Health approach to antibiotic stewardship.

He said: “The UK’s most recent Veterinary Antimicrobials Resistance and Sales Surveillance (VARSS) report on 2015 sales data saw a 10% drop in antibiotics sales into food-producing animals compared with the previous year.

“This, alongside significant reported reductions in usage in the poultry and pig sectors – released via the recent British Poultry Council Stewardship Report and AHDB’s e-Medicine Book data – will have changed the picture again.”

Animal welfare

He said the report underlines the importance of the most recent falls in use and the need for further reductions in use across the board. Those in farming needed to be aware that changing their use of antibiotics could not only help manage the global risk of antibiotic resistance, it could lower the risk of drug-resistant infections developing among UK livestock, he added.

“However, as highlighted in an EFSA/EMA report produced earlier this year, each local situation in each country needs its own multifaceted approach.

“There has been a tendency for critics to promote alternative farming systems or demand blanket implementation of rules in other countries, when what we actually need is to reduce use in a sustainable way that safeguards animal welfare,”​ added FitzGerald.

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