Intended for healthcare professionals


Overuse of animal antibiotics threatens human health

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: (Published 28 August 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:536
  1. Richard Woodman
  1. London

    Giving antibiotics to farm animals results in the emergence of resistant bacteria with potentially calamitous consequences for human health, warns a report from the United Kingdom Advisory Committee on the Micro-biological Safety of Food

    The committee, which was set up to provide the government with independent expert advice, says that it is clear that some of the resistant strains seen in food animals are capable of infecting humans Moreover, the ability of micro-organisms to transfer resistance “adds to the concerns about multiple resistant strains like [Salmonella typhimurium] entering the food chain.”

    The report recommends reduced reliance on the use of antimicrobials in food animal production and urges regulatory authorities to consider the resistance problem before authorising veterinary medicines

    Members of the committee backed the recent European Union ban on using as growth promoters certain antibiotics that are closely related to those used in human medicine. The report stated: “Having considered the matter very carefully, we concluded it would be prudent to phase out the use as growth promoters of spiramycin, tylosin phosphate and virginiamycin which might give rise to resistance to clinical antibiotics. We felt, additionally, that those remaining for use as growth promotersavilamycin, bambermycin, bacitracin zinc, monensin sodium and salinomycin should be more closely controlled, with regular reviews of possible implications in human medicine.”

    Although the report says that there is conclusive evidence that giving antibiotics to animals results in the emergence of some resistant bacteria that infect humans, it points out that the extent to which this contributes to the overall problem of bacterial antibiotic resistance in humans is uncertain. It notes: “For more than a year we have tried, unsuccessfully, to discover the amounts of antibiotics used in animals in the United Kingdom, the species of animals in which they were given, and the purpose of administration. We recognise that much of this information is commercially sensitive or difficult to assemble We nevertheless believe that a robust system to gather this information should be put in place as soon as possible.”

    Microbial Antibiotic Resistance in Relation to Food Safety is available from the Stationery Office, price £27.50

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    Animal food producers should reduce their reliance on antibiotics