May 14, 2019

Does the use of antibiotics in food animals pose a risk to human health?

The use of antibiotics in food animals selects for bacteria resistant to antibiotics used in humans, and these might spread via the food to humans and cause human infection, hence the banning of growth-promoters. The actual danger seems small, and there might be disadvantages to human and to animal health. The low dosages used for growth promotion are an unquantified hazard. Although some antibiotics are used both in animals and humans, most of the resistance problem in humans has arisen from human use. Resistance can be selected in food animals, and resistant bacteria can contaminate animal-derived food, but adequate cooking destroys them. How often they colonize the human gut, and transfer resistance genes is not known. In zoonotic salmonellosis, resistance may arise in animals or humans, but human cross-infection is common. The case of campylobacter infection is less clear. The normal human faecal flora can contain resistant enterococci, but indistinguishable strains in animals and man are uncommon, possibly because most animal enterococci do not establish themselves in the human intestine. There is no correlation between the carriage of resistant enterococci of possible animal origin and human infection with resistant strains. Commensal Escherichia coli also exhibits host-animal preferences. Anti-Gram-positive growth promoters would be expected to have little effect on most Gram-negative organisms. Even if resistant pathogens do reach man, the clinical consequences of resistance may be small. The application of the ‘precautionary principle’ is a non-scientific approach that assumes that risk assessments will be carried out.


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