Excessive use of antimicrobials in intensive livestock farming as One Health issue

One of a series of blogs written by CABI editors for One Health Day November 3rd 2016

Most antibiotics in livestock farming are used in aquaculture, but significant amounts are also used in terrestrial livestock species, particularly in poultry and pigs.

Livestock

Most antibiotics in intensive livestock farming are used for non-therapeutic purposes

Approximately 70% of antibiotics are used for non- therapeutic purposes, i.e. many antibiotics are used in sub- therapeutic doses and over prolonged periods, which leads to the development of genes that confer antimicrobial resistance to animal pathogens. These genes can subsequently be transferred to human pathogens and it is estimated that 75% of recently emerging diseases in humans are of animal origin.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) problems are further exacerbated by the fact that antibiotic resistance genes were found in bacteria long before antibiotics were ever used on super-pathogens in farm animals.

AMR is a worldwide problem, which clearly affects both animal and human health, and hence it is truly One Health issue.

 

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Germany scores own goal…its not Spanish cucumbers!

It's not cucumbers, it might be beansprouts? E. coli O104 has killed 22 people so far, made over1400 ill and reached 11 countries. It has had a significant effect on two countries- damaging Spain’s economy and damaging the credibility of the German public health system. The fallout is broader still:  the EU – and that includes us - is now offering compensation to Spanish farmers – using a central fund. 

For the bewildered public, the clue is in the name Escherichia coli…coli, Latin for intestine; for these bacteria live in the gut of man and warm-blooded animals. Unfortunately, some strains (STEC/VTEC, see Outbreak of E. coli acronyms in Germany) produce toxins that can cause severe diarrhoea, and this is always down to someone’s lack of hygiene.
Not washing hands after defecation, using a water supply contaminated with faeces to wash or water crops or poor manure preparation. It’s transmitted because poo was on your fingers or on your food and went into your mouth!

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Why Washing Your Vegetables and Hands May Not Protect You from E. coli, Staphylococcus, Salmonella…?

Following the recent outbreak of E. coli food poisoning in Germany that claimed at least 37 lives as of 14 June 2011 and still counting, numerous articles have been written, but many fundamental questions still remain unanswered.

As you will remember, contaminated Spanish cucumbers were initially blamed for the outbreak of E. coli infection, which prompted the Spanish government and farmers to vehemently deny this claim (justifiably, as it turned out) and demand compensation.

As soon as “the Spanish cucumber story” was shown to be a false alarm, tomatoes, salad and vegetable sprouts (of German origin) were declared as potential culprits. It is unclear why other vegetables, such as peppers, courgettes, mushroom, to list but a few, were kept off the list of suspects, particularly because all the laboratory tests performed so far have been inconclusive.

As time goes by, it is less likely that the source(s) of this outbreak will be identified any time soon. However, even if a contaminated vegetable (or various vegetables) is identified and successfully linked with this outbreak of E. coli in humans, identifying the pathway of contamination may prove more difficult.

While looking for potential sources of vegetable contamination with pathogenic microorganisms, I searched CAB Direct database and came across a very interesting review published 20 years ago by German Professor Strauch of the Institute of Animal Medicine and Hygiene, University of Hohenheim, which explains how pathogens may contaminate food crops. He warned about the potential of pathogenic organisms to cross from manure or sewage into food crops and suggested that “the agricultural utilization of hygienically dubious sewage or sludge poses a risk for the whole national economy.”

In his 1991 review “Survival of pathogenic microorganisms and parasites in excreta, manure and sewage sludge” (Rev Sci Tech. 1991 Sep;10(3):813-46), Strauch also reported that two groups of researchers had found that pathogenic organisms can be taken up by crops that are used in human and animal nutrition.

Once pathogenic microorganisms are incorporated into crops (including vegetables), washing the outside of fresh vegetables is of little benefit, because all the pathogens from the sludge (bacteria, viruses and parasites) are inside the plant.

…get out of the kitchen

One of the implications of all this energy we waste to swap coffee and wheat
is that we’re giving climate change a helping hand. The contribution made by
today’s food production systems to climate change globally will have tremendous
impacts on the food it produces in the future. So this week, in a document much
less concise that Peter Baker’s BBC article, the FAO released ‘Climate
change – Implications for Food Safety
.’

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