Meat imports may undermine efforts to curb antimicrobial resistance

By Oscar Rousseau

- Last updated on GMT

The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics and Medact have called for an EU-wide ban on antibiotics in poultry
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics and Medact have called for an EU-wide ban on antibiotics in poultry

Related tags Antimicrobial resistance Medicine Antibiotic Eu Poultry

The Alliance to Save our Antibiotics has called for an EU ban on routine antibiotic use in poultry, but conceded this may not be enough to protect public health. 

The world is on the brink of what health officials say is comparable to a terrorist attack: a post-antibiotic era in which people die of minor infections because the antibiotics we once used no longer work.

In response to this threat, senior figures in animal and environmental welfare, veterinary medicine, farming and government have called for a global solution to this global problem.

An EU ban on the use of fluoroquinolone in poultry is one idea proposed at a conference jointly hosted by the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics and Medact on Thursday 14 April.

However, an EU-wide ban on the antibiotic would not necessarily be enough to combat the growing threat antimicrobial resistance poses to public health.

This is because these efforts could be “undermined”​ if Europe continues to import poultry from South-East Asia, according to Cóilín Nunan, principal scientific advisor for the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics.
Nunan referenced Denmark, one of only seven countries in the world to ban systematic farm-use of fluoroquinolone in poultry. Despite Denmark’s ban, which he claimed is a “public health success story”​, antimicrobial resistance continued to rise.

“Unfortunately, our analysis shows that countries that don’t use fluoroquinolones in poultry are importing resistance when they import poultry meat from countries that still use the drugs,”​ said Nunan.

“This is why we urgently need a British and EU ban on fluoroquinolone use in poultry.”

This proposal follows a report from the Alliance to Save our Antibiotics which revealed the effectiveness of the fluoroquinolone antibiotic - crucial in human medicine - is being undermined by systematic use in poultry farming across the EU.

Some critics argue the ban in Denmark has not helped control antimicrobial resistance in humans, yet the opposite seems to be true for the US.

In 2005, America banned fluoroquinolone for poultry use after the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) said it caused resistance in human campylobacter infections. As a result,  the US now has some of the lowest rates  (22%) of fluoroquinolone resistance to infection in the world.

In contrast, the average EU level of human resistance to campylobacter stands at around 60%.

“Whilst there is a great deal of rhetoric around responsible antibiotic use, we need clear guidance as to what is ‘acceptable’ when it comes to farm use,”​ said professor Barry Cookson from University College London, who spoke at the conference.

"The medical community voiced their concerns in March around the routine preventative dosing of healthy animals. It is also concerning that use of our most important drugs to treat animals is on the rise in many EU countries.”

No concrete plans have been put in motion to impose an EU-wide ban on fluoroquinolone use. But there is a broad consensus across many industries to find a solution, sooner rather than later.

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