A new peer-reviewed article suggests that 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 health.

"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," says Ian Phillips, M.D., 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 made decisions about antibiotics that have damaged animal health and not provided any benefits to human health,” he contends. “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 is full of misinformation. This group critically reviewed more than 250 studies and available data in an attempt to draw distinctions between events that do happen, may happen, might happen and don’t happen.

Surveillance data from Europe and the United States shows 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 incident of antibiotic resistant foodborne pathogens is generally declining, as has the number of cases caused by foodborne bacteria.

“After examining the extensive surveillance data available, no significant benefits to human health as a result of European ban are evident, while it is clear that resistance in foodborne pathogens has decreased in the U.S.,” says Ronald N. Jones, M.D., 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 were conducted on specific antibiotics used in animals consistently showed extremely low levels of risk.

The independent advisory board to AHI developed the report; comprised of a group of human microbiologists, risk assessors, veterinarians and animal health experts

“Continued use of antibiotics in food animals is important to animal health and welfare and food safety,” says John Waddell, swine veterinarian. “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