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WASHINGTON -- A new peer-reviewed article raises
concern that the banning of antibiotics in food animals may harm both human
and animal health. The report, published this month in the Journal of
Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, found there is little to no scientific evidence to
suggest that the use of antibiotics in food animals negatively impacts human
"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, MD, 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, drawn from both human and animal health, found the
debate over the potential of antibiotic resistance transfer from animal to
humans has featured misinformation and a blurring of important distinctions.
They critically reviewed more than 250 studies and available data in an
attempt to draw distinctions among events that do happen, may happen, might
happen and do not happen.
Surveillance data from Europe and the United States show 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, U.S. data shows the incidence of antibiotic resistant
food-borne pathogens is generally declining, as has the number of cases caused
by food-borne 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 U.S.,"
said Ronald N. Jones, MD, co-author of the JAC report and principal
investigator of the SENTRY Antimicrobial Resistance Surveillance program, the
world's largest database of antibiotic resistance.
A review of several risk assessments that have been done on certain
antibiotics used in animals consistently showed extremely low levels of risk.
"We agree with the World Health Organization and the International Office
of Epizootics that sound policy decisions must be based on scientific risk
assessments that address the likely future human health consequences of
proposed risk management actions. In practice, that means understanding and
applying principles for prudent use of antibiotics and paying attention to
surveillance and monitoring data for both antibiotic-susceptible and
antibiotic-resistant illnesses caused by foodborne bacteria," summarized Tony
Cox, co-author and president of Cox Associates, an applied research company
specializing in health risk analysis and operations research modeling.
"Legislative and political efforts without sound science and quantitative
assessment of their possible, adverse human health consequences are dangerous.
If the United States follows the European ban, then both animal and human
health may be jeopardized."
The report was developed by the independent advisory board to AHI,
comprised of a group of human microbiologists, risk assessors, veterinarians
and animal health experts, including Ian Phillips, MD, FRCP, FRCPath, FFPHM,
University of London; Ron Jones, MD, The JONES Group/JMI Laboratories, North
Liberty, Iowa; Mark Casewell, BSc, MD, FRCP, FRCPath, University of London;
Tony Cox, PhD, SM, Cox Associates, an applied research company
specializing in health risk analysis and operations research modeling, Denver; Brad De Groot, MS, DVM, PhD, Kansas State University, Manhattan,
Kan., and Livestock Information Services, Callaway, Neb.; Christian Friis, DVM,
PhD, Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, Copenhagen, Denmark;
Charles Nightingale, MS, PhD, Hartford Hospital, University of
Connecticut, Hartford, Conn.; Rodney Preston, PhD, Texas Tech University,
Lubbock, Texas; and John Waddell, DVM, MBA, Sutton Veterinary Clinic,
"Continued use of antibiotics in food animals is important to animal
health and welfare and food safety," said Waddell, a Nebraska
veterinarian who has toured several Danish pigs farms. "We will continue to
follow the principles of prudent use and rely on surveillance and risk
assessment to ensure safe use of antibiotics to keep animals healthy."
Source: Animal Health Institute