Prudent use of antibiotics in human and veterinary science should remain a priority to help tackle the remaining high levels of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in humans, animals and food.
An EU-wide report on AMR bacteria in humans, animals and food found antibiotic resistance in many European countries ‘remains high’ and poses a serious threat to public and animal health.
The report, published by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) carried out harmonised testing of AMR in E. coli bacteria and found resistance in British fattening pigs was the ninth highest of the 29 countries testing was carried out.
Some resistance to colistin, the last-resort human antibiotic, was found in nine countries, including in one sample out of 170 from the UK.
The Alliance to Save Our Antibiotics slammed the industry, with calls on the government to ban ‘all routine preventative group treatments in all species’.
Cóilín Nunan, scientific adviser, said: “It is not surprising that antibiotic resistance in British pigs is so high since we know that over half of all farm antibiotic use in the UK is in pigs.
“A lot of routine use occurs at weaning time, when piglets are very prone to developing E. coli infections as they are weaned far too early.”
But RUMA general secretary John FitzGerald championed the work to reduce, refine and replace antibiotics but said it continued to be ‘very necessary’.
The UK prides itself on low resistance levels when compared to other countries, after sales data in November 2016 saw a 10 per cent reduction in farm animal use.
He said: “We hope that the generally lower levels of resistance found in the UK reflect, in part, the responsible use guidelines for farm animals we have had in place through RUMA for the past 20 years.
“Despite this, the need for further concerted action is clear. We all have a responsibility to ensure that antibiotics keep working.”
Mr FitzGerald said although cutting back on antibiotic use should reduce the risk of resistance occurring, there was not always a direct relationship.
He added: “This report found very low levels of resistance to carbapenems in pigs and pig meat, yet carbapenems are neither authorised nor used in food-producing animals.
“But this does not mean we should lose focus on reductions.”