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NPA welcomes Royal Society paper highlighting need for holistic approach to AMR

5th Apr 2017 / By Alistair Driver

Reducing antibiotic consumption in animals alone will often have very limited benefits for human health, according to a new scientific paper published today by the Royal Society.

pigs002The paper, which can be viewed here, reiterates the importance of addressing antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in both humans and animals simultaneously.

The NPA has welcomed the research, which said it provided useful context in the ongoing AMR debate but also reinforced the current ‘One Health’ approach being adopted to address the problem in animal and human medicine.

The paper, by B.A.D van Bunnik and Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh, describes antibiotic resistance as a public health crisis and notes that it is often suggested that resistance arising in food animals contributes to resistance levels in humans.

This study uses a mathematical model to gauge whether the ‘widely suggested intervention of drastically decreasing antibiotic consumption by food animals would be effective’.

It concludes that, as a stand-alone measure, reducing antibiotic consumption by food animals ‘will often have very limited benefits for human health’.

The paper states: “Although it is widely regarded as intuitively obvious that reducing antibiotic consumption in animals would decrease levels of antibiotic resistance in humans this is, in fact, not the case for a wide range of scenarios, especially if this intervention is made in isolation.”

The paper does not, however, suggest that tackling the problem in livestock medicine is not important.

It says: “A better strategy is an integrated approach that tackles resistance in humans and food animals at the same time.”

It suggests reducing the rate of transmission of resistance from animals to humans ‘may often be more effective’, while the rate of transmission from humans to animals is also important.

“It is thus not enough to only lower the consumption of antibiotics in food animals, the transmission both from and to food animals should also be limited in order to maximize the impact of this and other interventions.”

Valuable clarification

GCNPA senior policy advisor Georgina Crayford (left) said: “This paper reiterates the value of the approach we are taking in the livestock sector to reduce and refine antibiotic use. We are utterly committed to driving ahead with this.

“However, the research also provides valuable clarification in addressing the entirely unwarranted suggestion often made by campaigners that AMR is somehow primarily a problem caused by intensive farming. It isn’t, and the solution lies, as it always has, in taking a robust approach in human and animal medicine.”

The Responsible Use of Medicine in Agriculture (RUMA) welcomed the study but cautioned that what the paper itself describes as a ‘simple model’ can only give an indication of likely outcomes.

RUMA chairman Gwyn Jones said: "The study highlights the complexity of antibiotic resistance and the need for a ‘One Health’ approach to the problem across humans and animals. So while it suggests that removal of antibiotics from animal production systems is not the answer to antimicrobial resistance in humans, the food and farming sector should not in any way dilute its current focus on reducing, refining and replacing antibiotic use across all sectors.

"An important point it does raise, however, is that a drive for ‘antibiotic-free’ farm produce is not necessarily beneficial for human health and makes any related detrimental impacts on animal health and welfare even more unjustifiable.

"RUMA therefore retains its position that responsible use of antibiotics alongside well-managed, scientifically-robust reductions is the most appropriate approach."

For more reaction to the paper, see Pig World