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EFSA study reveals rsisks of antimicrobial use

Thursday 04 August 2011

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) has today released an assessment which reveals the use of antimicrobials on food-producing animals is a risk to public health as the process can create resistant bacteria and help spread the bacterial strains. The study, conducted by the Panel on Biological Hazards (BIOHAZ Panel) for the EFSA, demands that the overall use of antimicrobials in food producing animals in the European Union be lowered to limit the risk to public health posed by the overuse of such products.

Used in human and veterinary medicine to treat infections caused by bacteria, antimicrobials become ineffective when bacteria develop resistance to them, meaning they can no longer be used to treat infectious diseases in humans. As only a finite number of antimicrobials are available, the researchers from the BIOHAZ panel recommend restricting or stopping the use of cephalosporins in the treatment of food-producing animals to prevent resistant bacteria form developing within the food chain.

The EFSA said resistant bacteria can spread through many routes. When antimicrobial resistance occurs in zoonotic bacteria present in animals and food, it can also compromise the effective treatment of certain infectious diseases in humans. They could potentially render antimicrobials such as penicillins and cephalosporins, which are critically important to human and veterinary medicine, obsolete.

In its assessment, the BIOHAZ Panel evaluated the risks to public health of bacterial strains producing two types of enzymes; extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) and AmpC beta-lactamases (AmpC). EFSA's Panel of experts concluded that different bacteria are able to produce these enzymes, most often Escherichia coli (E. coli) and Salmonella. Since 2000, ESBL/AmpC-producing Salmonella and E. coli in animals and foods have been increasingly reported both in Europe and globally.

Superbugs most common in poultry

While resistant bacterial strains have been found in all major food-producing animals, they have been identified most frequently in live chickens and chicken meat, eggs and other poultry products. The BIOHAZ Panel, in addition to looking into methods to detect this type of resistance, analysed the risk factors contributing to the occurrence, emergence and spread of resistant strains. The panel concluded that “the use of antimicrobials in general (and not only that related to cephalosporins) is a risk factor for the spread of these types of resistant bacterial strains.”

The experts therefore strongly recommended to the EFSA that decreasing the overall use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals should be of high priority in the EU, as these bacterial strains are often resistant to many other commonly used veterinary drugs. They also came to the conclusion that the extensive trade of animals in EU Member States adds an additional risk factor.

The Panel recommended improvements for the ongoing EU surveillance and monitoring programmes on antimicrobial resistance caused by resistant strains to counteract this risk.

The full Scientific Opinion on the public health risks of bacterial strains producing extended-spectrum beta-lactamases and/or AmpC beta-lactamases in food and food-producing animals is available from the EFSA here.

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