Vets urge caution over Soil Association claims on superbugs

Medicine on farm

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) has urged caution over the findings of a Soil Association literature review, published today, which cites “overwhelming evidence’ that the use of antibiotics in UK livestock farms is contributing to the rise of resistant human E. Coli infections.

The BVA has questioned the claim that there is “overwhelming evidence” and in contrast points to the scientific opinion of the European Food Safety Authority, which states: 

“Few studies designed to assess risk factors for ESBL and/or AmpC occurrence in animals are available. The use of antimicrobials is a risk factor for selection and spread of resistant clones, resistance genes and plasmids”. The opinion then goes on to state: “How widespread ESBL-carrying bacteria are in food-producing animals in the breeding/rearing/fattening sectors is generally unknown.”

The BVA also pointed to a recent study from the University of Glasgow in which the data show that animal and human populations of Salmonella Typhimurium DT104 differ significantly indicating that animal populations are unlikely to be the major source of resistance to these bacteria in humans. Could this also be the case for other bacteria?

Commenting, Carl Padgett, President of the BVA, said:

“Claims by the Soil Association that there is ‘overwhelming evidence’ need to be treated with caution. The leading scientific panel in Europe has taken the view that the evidence is simply not there to draw such conclusions.

“The incidence of resistance in animals and the use of antibiotics as a predictor of incidence in man is now being questioned by research from the University of Glasgow. Although this research relates to different bacteria, we have to reflect on whether such a conclusion may also apply to E. Coli and we would welcome more research in this area.

“The BVA is concerned that kneejerk reactions to the very real problem of antimicrobial resistance can lead to blanket restrictions on the use of these medicines by veterinary surgeons that are not backed up by scientific evidence.

“However, the Soil Association’s call for a stronger regulatory framework for the newer antibiotics is something the BVA supports wholeheartedly.

“The BVA has been at the forefront of attempts to encourage the profession to use medicines responsibly, especially the newer classes of antimicrobials in animals. In the BVA poster on responsible use we specifically recommend that these antimicrobials, along with fluoroquinolones should be reserved for clinical conditions that respond poorly to other classes of antimicrobials.

“We will continue to work with the RUMA Alliance to promote strong guidelines on responsible use to veterinary surgeons.”