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Intensive Rearing Leads to More Antibiotic-Resistance

by 5m Editor
22 September 2010, at 9:16am

UK - Scientists speaking at a conference today (23 September) will reveal shocking new levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria in intensively reared farm animals that have the potential to spread to humans.

At the conference entitled, ‘Antimicrobial resistance: from farm to fork and beyond’, Professor Gary French from Guy's & St Thomas' Hospital & King's College, London will tell delegates: “We are faced with the potential loss of antimicrobial therapy. Effective national and international programmes of control to combat these problems are urgently needed.”

Presentations from British government scientists will admit that a new, almost untreatable, type of antibiotic resistance in E. coli, known as extended-spectrum beta-lactamase (ESBL) resistance, has spread from the handful of farms on which it had been identified, to more than one in three of all dairy farms in England and Wales. One study will link the rise of ESBL E. coli on farms to the increasing farm use of modern antibiotics classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as critically important in human medicine. The same study will present evidence that the unregulated sale of animals from first infected farms has increased the problem.

In a further development, Professor John Thelfall from the Health Protection Agency (HPA) will present evidence on a highly drug-resistant strain of salmonella associated with pigs and pigmeat, which has caused human outbreaks in ten European countries, and will pose the question, ‘Is this the next multi-drug resistant epidemic European Salmonella?’ Alarmingly, this same strain has now also been found in British pigs with additional ESBL resistance.

A British government scientist will admit that food remains under-explored as a potential source of ESBL-producing E. coli, while a Dutch scientist will say that their investigations already enable them to conclude that in the Netherlands poultry has contributed to the distribution of ESBL-carrying plasmids towards humans.

Richard Young from the Soil Association said: “There has been little public scrutiny of farm antibiotic use for over a decade, yet during that time, we have seen farmers dramatically increase their use of antibiotics classified by the WHO as ‘critically important in human medicine’ and we have also seen the development of several serious antibiotic-resistant bugs in farm animals which are passing to humans on food and in other ways. It is high time that the government took this problem seriously.”

Philip Lymbery, from Compassion in World Farming, said: “The intensification of agriculture, with pigs and poultry kept in cramped, unhygienic conditions, and dairy cattle pushed harder and harder to produce more milk, has led farmers to rely on hugely important antibiotics to treat the diseases this is causing. We are now getting the evidence that this has real implications for human health too. It is high time that Defra stopped downplaying the evidence and realised that the only way to address this problem is to start keeping farm animals in more natural and less intensive ways.”