New Data Demonstrate Little to No Evidence That Antibiotic Use in Food Animals Presents Any Significant Risk to Human Health


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,

Sutton, Neb.

"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

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