PARMA, Italy – Using antimicrobials in food-producing animals is a risk factor for the spread of these bacterial strains, according to research from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) Panel on Biological Hazards. This conclusion was part of an assessment of the potential contribution of food and food-producing animals to the public health risks posed by bacteria that produce enzymes that makes them resistant to treatments with broad spectrum beta-lactams.

Decreasing the use of antimicrobials in food- producing animals in the European Union should be a priority to limit the risk to public health arising from resistance in the food chain. One effective option would be to restrict or stop the use of cephalosporins in the treatment of food-producing animals, the experts recommend.

Antimicrobials are used in human and veterinary medicine to treat infections caused by bacteria. Resistance to antimicrobials occurs when bacteria develop mechanisms that reduce their effectiveness or render their use ineffective. Resistant bacteria can spread through many routes. When antimicrobial resistance occurs in zoonotic bacteria present in animals and food, it can also compromise the effective treatment of certain infectious diseases in humans.

The BIOHAZ Panel evaluated the risks to public health of bacterial strains producing two types of enzymes; extended-spectrum beta-lactamases (ESBL) and AmpC beta-lactamases (AmpC). These enzymes inactivate the effects of antimicrobials such as penicillins and cephalosporins which are defined as critically important antimicrobials for both human and veterinary medicine.

Different bacteria are able to produce these enzymes, most oftenEscherichia coli(E. coli) andSalmonella, EFSA’s panel experts conclude. Since 2000, ESBL/AmpC-producing Salmonella and E. coli in animals and foods have been increasingly reported both in Europe and globally. These resistant bacterial strains have been found in all major food-producing animals, most frequently in live chickens and chicken meat, eggs and other poultry products.

The opinion also looked at epidemiology of resistance caused by ESBL/AmpC enzymes and the methods for detection of this type of resistance.

The BIOHAZ Panel analyzed the risk factors contributing to the occurrence, emergence and spread of ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria and concluded the use of antimicrobials, in general — and not only that related to cephalosporins — is a risk factor for the spread of these types of resistant bacterial strains. Decreasing the overall use of antimicrobials in food-producing animals should be of high priority in the EU as these bacterial strains are often resistant to many other commonly used veterinary drugs, the experts concluded. They also concluded an additional risk factor is the extensive trade of animals in EU Member States.

EFSA’s scientists state amongst other recommendations, a highly effective control option to reduce ESBL/AmpC-producing bacteria in food-producing animals at the EU-level would be to restrict or stop the use of cephalosporins in treating food-producing animals.

Improvements for the ongoing EU surveillance and monitoring programmes on antimicrobial resistance caused by ESBL/AmpC enzymes were also recommended by the panel.