In a recent study scientists have found that antibiotic resistance is on the rise among farm animals in low-to-middle income countries. This could have a severe impact on the animals' well-being and the health of consumers. For this reason, they urge the development of better farming policies around the world.
      
Antibiotic drug resistance in cattle has doubled in less than 20 years.

      

All over the world, the antibiotics that farmers use to prevent illness in their animals are losing effectiveness as bacteria develop antibiotic resistance. According to new research, it’s a huge problem,one that’s been masked by a longstanding focus on the risk that resistant bacteria pose to humans instead.


And this trend in the animal world carries a double danger. Long term, these resistant bacteria could travel to people,creating untreatable, hard-to-contain infections. But even now, within the meat industry, routine use of antibiotics is harming farmers’ ability to raise animals and treat them if they get sick.


For the past few years, scientists have been sounding the alarm about antibiotic resistance repeatedly.


Generally antibiotic resistance or tolerance refers to dangerous bacteria's increasing adaptability and imperviousness to the action of antibiotics, which are potent drugs designed to fight bacterial infections.


People may soon face an antibiotic resistance crisis, as the bacteria we are vulnerable to may stop responding to treatments that used to be effective against them.


Now, a new threat has become apparent: the rise of antibiotic resistance among farm animals, including pigs, cattle, and poultry.


The past study has found that an increasing number of farmers are treating farm animals bred for human consumption with antimicrobial drugs. Researchers have expressed concerns about the impact this might have on human health in the long run.


Now, a new study featured in the journal Science confirms that this practice has led to an increased number of antibiotic or antimicrobial resistance cases among farm animals all over the world.

     

Antibiotic resistance high in sub-continent and China

"Antimicrobial have saved millions of human lives, yet the majorities (73%) are used in animals raised for food," the study authors write.


They also note that in recent years, the production of meat has increased in low-to-middle income countries.


Specifically, "Since 2000, meat production has plateaued in high income countries but has grown by 68%, 64%, and 40% in Africa, Asia, and South America, respectively," they write.


This pattern has also meant that these countries use ever increasing quantities of antibiotics for the treatment of animals bred for food. This practice is linked to the development of an antibiotic resistance crisis in farming, the researchers found.


As study co-author Thomas Van Boeckel, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, explains:


"For the first time, we have some evidence that antibiotic resistance in farm animals is rising, and is raising fast in low and middle income countries."


He and his team analyzed 901 epidemiological studies that looked at the evolution of a series of widespread bacteria — Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus, and Escherichia coli— in low and middle income countries around the world.


They found that the strongest cases of multi drug resistance are occurring among farm animals in sub-continent [especially in India] and northeast China, with Kenya, Uruguay, and Brazil following close behind.


The team also found that farmers tend to use four specific types of antimicrobial drugs usually to stimulate the animals to put on weight. These are tetracycline, sulfonamides, quinolones, and penicillin.These drugs also happen to be those that bacteria have developed the highest resistance rates against.


Van Boeckel and colleagues add that between 2000 and 2018, the quantity of antimicrobial drugs to which bacteria that affect cattle have become resistant has doubled, while for chicken and pigs, it has almost tripled.


They say that now is the time for countries to enforce policies that regulate the use of antibiotics more strictly, as some of the countries experiencing this problem such as Brazil are also some of the top exports of meat.


Van Boeckel says that high-income countries,where antibiotics have been used since the 1950s, should subsidize safer farming practices in parts of the world where resistance is rising. “We are largely responsible for this global problem we’ve created,” he says. “If we want to help ourselves, we should help others.”

Our view

Knowing which countries or locations are resistance hot spots, and focusing efforts on them, could help soothe that tension. It could shore up small-scale farming in areas where animals are critical to families’ survival. And it might give international donors, not to mention affluent nations, some guidance for where their funds could offer the most help.

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