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Antibiotic Resistance Research Out-of-Date, Says RUMA

09 August 2013

UK - The organisation, Responsible Use of Medicines in Agriculture (RUMA) Alliance has challenged claims that farm use of antibiotics has had a "staggering" impact on human health.

Alarmist reports in the media of the number of number of deaths in the UK linked to antibiotic use in farm animals come from out-of-date research, says RUMA Secretary General, John FitzGerald.

RUMA is disappointed that an inaccurate press release from the Soil Association led to these reports in The Sunday Times and The Daily Mail. Mr FitzGerald said that research into antibiotic resistance in the Netherlands had initially suggested a link between resistant bacteria in humans and poultry and had estimated the number of deaths that may have been caused by this link.

More recent work from the same research team using more sophisticated methods has led them to conclude that “Whole genome sequencing provides superior resolution over classical typing methods and does not support the previously proposed occurrence of frequent clonal transmission of ESBL-positive E. coli from chickens to humans.”

Extrapolating the calculations of possible human deaths from the Netherlands to the UK was flawed from the outset because antibiotics were used differently in UK poultry production in 2009 when compared to how they were used in the Netherlands.

The British poultry meat industry has voluntarily stopped the use of certain categories of antibiotics in the breeding pyramid which are considered to be critically important to human medicine, such as third-generation cephalosporins. In the UK, third-generation cephalosporins are not and have never been used in flocks used for chicken meat production, which was not the case in The Netherlands in 2009.

The RUMA Alliance, which includes the British Poultry Council and the British Retail Council, recognises the spread of antibiotic resistance as a global challenge and the need for responsible use of antibiotics in farming and human medicine.

Antibiotic resistance is a complex issue and all groups need to work together to develop decisions based on sound and up to date science to manage the risks while allowing the optimum benefit to be gained from the use of antibiotics to treat humans and animals.

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