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BSI response to study modelling impact of curtailing antibiotic use in farm animals on antimicrobial resistance in humans

5 April 2017

A paper published today in Royal Society Open Science reports on a new mathemathical model that assesses what effect decreasing antibiotic consumption in food animals will have on human health.  The paper reports that, as a stand alone measure, reducing antibiotic consumption by food animals will have limited benefits for human health and puts forward that a more integrated approach should be pursued to concurrently tackle antimicrobial resistance in both humans and in food animals.  In response to this paper, the BSI has released the following statement:

Dr Peter Barlow, British Society for Immunology spokesperson and Reader in Immunology & Infection at Edinburgh Napier University said:

“Emerging antimicrobial resistance is a significant threat for human and animal health around the world, and it is a problem that requires coordinated and decisive global action to minimize the spread of drug-resistant pathogens.  It has been proposed that one way in which we could combat the spread of antimicrobial resistance is by reducing the amount of antibiotics used in animals that are part of the human food chain.

“This well-constructed study uses a simple mathematical model to look at what would happen to human health in the event that animals used in food production were given fewer antibiotics.  Their model suggests that this action alone would have little effect on levels of antibiotic resistance in humans.

“This finding is consistent with prior reports from the World Health Organization, stating 'Antimicrobial resistance is a complex problem that affects all of society and is driven by many interconnected factors. Single, isolated interventions have limited impact'.1

“I agree with the authors' conclusions that several measures are required to reduce the emerging risk of antimicrobial resistance, and that their model would support this.  These measures can include increased surveillance and research, increasing awareness of the issue, effective sanitation and hygiene to prevent infection, and optimising the use of antimicrobials in humans and animals.2  However, I would caution against using this model as confirmation that we should not be focused on reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock, as it is extremely difficult to measure the effect of one intervention on a complex global problem.  Drug-resistant infections are a substantial threat to human and animal health and I believe reducing antibiotic use in our food supply will still be an effective action as part of a global strategy to reduce our reliance on antimicrobial medicines."

  1. World Health Organization factsheet on antimicrobial resistance, September 2016
  2. World Health Organization 2015 Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance

The full paper that this comment is in response to can be found at: van Bunnik & Woolhouse 2017 Royal Society Open Science 4 161067 DOI: 10.1098/rsos.161067