Antibiotics in food production investigated
food animals may harm both human and animal health. The report,
published this month in the Journal of Antimicrobial
Chemotherapy, argues there is little to no scientific evidence
to suggest that the use of antibiotics in food animals negatively
impacts human health.
"The scientific evidence shows that the actual risk of transfer of antibiotic resistant organisms from animals to humans caused by the use of antibiotics in food animals is extremely small and in some cases zero," said Ian Phillips, principal author and Emeritus Professor of medical microbiology at the medical school of Guy's and St. Thomas' Hospitals, University of London.
"The European Union applied the precautionary principle and set aside scientific evidence, and so made decisions about antibiotics that have in fact damaged animal health and not provided any benefits to human health. We need to advance science and risk assessments to help make sound, evidence-based and balanced decisions in the United States and around the world."
The panel of experts contends that surveillance data from Europe and the United States shows numerous disconnects in the patterns of resistant bacteria in animals and humans, making it unlikely that there is or has been widespread transference of resistant bacteria via the food supply. And, while a European ban on antibiotics to promote growth has not reduced antibiotic resistance levels in humans in Europe, US data shows the incidence of antibiotic resistant foodborne pathogens is generally declining, as has the number of cases caused by foodborne bacteria.
"After examining the extensive surveillance data available, no significant benefits to human health as a result of the European ban are evident, while it is clear that resistance in foodborne pathogens has decreased in the US," said Ronald Jones, co-author of the JAC report and principal investigator of the Sentry Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance programme, the world's largest database of antibiotic resistance.
There is little doubt that in some cases, antibiotics have been used against infectious diseases with great success. Potential agricultural uses of antibiotics include the treatment and prevention of diseases in animals and plants and the promotion of growth in food animals.
But the concentrated and widespread use of antibiotic agents has also resulted in the emergence of drug-resistant organisms, some of which can now survive most commercially available antibiotics.
According to a recent American Academy of Microbiology report, The Role of Antibiotics in Agriculture, intensive and extensive antibiotic use leads to the establishment of a pool of antibiotic resistance genes in the environment. The AAM report claims that both pathogenic bacteria and organisms that do not cause disease may become resistant to antibiotics, and bacteria of human and animal origin can serve as reservoirs for resistance genes.
But the authors of the report are adamant that the EU should look again at the application of certain antibiotics in the farmyard. "Legislative and political efforts without sound science and quantitative assessment of their possible, adverse human health consequences are dangerous," said Tony Cox, co-author and president of Cox Associates, an applied research company specialising in health risk analysis and operations research modeling. "If the United States follows the European ban, then both animal and human health may be jeopardised."